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Vermont News Updates For Tuesday, September 8

A circle of white people in masks looking at a Black man reading at a microphone
Sarah Priestap
/
For VPR
Burlington-based poet Rajnii Eddins reads at a music vigil for Elijah McClain at the Bethel Bandstand on Aug. 30. McClain was a 23-year-old Black man who died after Colorado police put him in a chokehold and gave him ketamine when he was walking home.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, calls for an investigation at the Springfield School District after a Black employee resigned over racism and more for Tuesday, September 8.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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Three additional cases of COVID-19

The Health Department reported three new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, located in Orleans, Lamoille and Chittenden counties. Another 790 people tested negative for the coronavirus.

A total of 146,782 people have been tested to date in Vermont. One person is hospitalized with the disease, 1,465 have recovered and 58 people have died.

- Mark Davis and Elodie Reed

Springfield School District superintendent calls for investigation after Black employee resigns over racism

The superintendent of the Springfield School District is calling for an external investigation after a Black employee resigned saying he faced racism throughout the district.

In a letter to the school board, Superintendent Zach McLaughlin says he wants an outside investigation because the former employee said he faced microaggressions and racism within the district office.

The Springfield School Board is also considering a new policy that would allow parents to pull their kids out of class when a controversial issue such as race is discussed.

In his letter, the teacher who resigned said the new policy "undermines historically marginalized students," and he said he did not feel safe in the district.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont officials hope for low case numbers, expanding in-person schooling

Vermont’s education secretary hopes that if COVID-19 rates remain low, schools will be able to do more in-person instruction in the coming weeks.

Tuesday was the first day of school in Vermont — a later date than usual to give districts more time to put coronavirus mitigation plans in place. Most schools in the state are offering a mixture of in-person and remote classes.

Education Secretary Dan French says schools eventually transition to more in-person classes if these first few weeks go well.

“We also know considering the prospect of flu season and moving to more indoor schooling as temperatures cool, we need to take advantage of this time in late September to maximize the in-person learning opportunities for students,” French said.

Schools are required to follow a number of rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including mandatory face coverings, frequent cleaning of the buildings and daily health screenings of students and staff.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Gov. does not agree with litigation measure in climate bill

Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature strongly disagree about a key provision of a carbon emissions bill.

The legislation calls for a 26% reduction in Vermont's emissions by 2025 and an 80% drop by 2050.

It creates a special climate commission to achieve these goals, and allows citizens to sue the state if the goals aren't met. The governor doesn't support the litigation section.

“You never know with the Legislature,” Scott said. “It still has an opportunity to get us all on board and move forward with this, but I have some concerns that have not been met at this point that I think are detrimental to the state."    

The House is set to consider this legislation this week.

- Bob Kinzel

Traffic deaths up this year despite stay-at-home order

So far this year, 47 people have died on Vermont roads. That's more than double the number at this time last year.

That's even as traffic volume has been down this year, particularly during the state's stay-at-home order in the spring.

Mandy White, the manager of the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Highway Safety Data Unit, says fewer cars on the road may lead to some reckless driving.

“Anecdotally, I'm hearing that from law enforcement, that people are taking more chances,” White said. “There's less cars on the road, or at least there were. And that's definitely allowing people that freedom-of-the-road feeling, I believe."

White says there's not a clear reason for the uptick in fatal crashes. But she says speeding, driving under the influence, and not wearing seatbelts have all played roles in fatal crashes this year.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

Police reform executive order to be enacted "as soon as possible"

Gov. Phil Scott says he hopes a series of law enforcement reforms he proposed will be enacted as soon as possible.”

Scott signed an order last week outlining several initiatives, including creating a portal to publicly release allegations of police misconduct. But the governor wouldn’t say how much information he’d like released about those kinds of incidents.

“Within the provisions of protecting an individual’s rights and as well as maybe some union’s rights as well, we’ll try to meander our way through that and provide as much transparency as we possibly can within those parameters,” Scott said.

The executive order also includes developing a statewide use-of-force policy, standardizing data collection across local police departments and increasing the use of body cameras.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Vermont's universal mail-in voting is shifting campaign strategies

The advent of universal mail-in ballots in Vermont this fall is forcing political candidates to shift their campaign strategies.

Lauren Hierl runs the political action arm of an environmental group called Vermont Conservation Voters and says candidates usually save their resources for the run-up to Election Day.

“And now I think you’re going to see, you know, when ballots first go out, I think you’re going to want to do a push, because I think a lot of people night just turn them right around, fill them out, drop them in the mail,” Hierl said.

Campaigns also expect higher voter turnouts as a result of universal mail-in ballots, and many candidates will be trying to tailor their messages to first-time voters.

Registered voters will begin receiving ballots in the mail later this month.

Read/hear the full story.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Kinney Drugs to offer COVID-19 testing

A regional pharmacy chain is partnering with the University of Vermont to provide COVID-19 testing.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced Tuesday that Kinney Drugs will offer the test at 11 locations around the state.

Levine says he expects the sites will mostly test people without symptoms of COVID-19.

“Probably the leading sector of that group are people trying to get out of quarantine from travel, or potentially people who have been traced as a contact and want to get out of quarantine early,” he said.

Levine says insurance should cover the test and people should not have to pay out-of-pocket.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Rutland-area fresh produce program expands

The Vermont Farmers Food Center continues to expand its Farmacy program.

The program distributes free, locally-grown produce to individuals who health care providers have identified as having chronic, diet-related conditions like diabetes, pre-diabetes or heart disease.

Director Emma Hileman says with help from the Rutland Free Health Clinic, they’re not only distributing fresh produce to clients in Rutland City, but in Brandon, Poultney, Fair Haven and Danby.

“In the mix of all the hubbub, and what this year has been for everybody, we were able to make those partnerships, gather volunteers, and we're shipping out, I think, about 75 of the shares to these outlying communities this year,” Hileman said.

She added that they serve 150 people and have a wait list. Hileman noted the grant-funded program costs about $100,000 a year.

- Nina Keck

Vermont House expected to continue 2021 budget debate this week

The Vermont House of Representatives is expected to continue debating the 2021 budget this week, without knowing whether support is coming from the federal government.

Lawmakers returned to session late last month to finalize the fiscal 2021 budget and deal with other issues that weren't completed earlier in the year.

The budget challenge isn't as great as feared earlier in the year. But state officials say a bigger challenge could come in the fiscal 2022 budget if Congress doesn't provide more aid to the states.

- Associated Press

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