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MSMS to ban student cellphone use

MONTPELIER — Main Street Middle School will ban the use of cellphones by students during school hours when school resumes Aug. 29.

The decision was taken because of concerns about distractions for students in class, and to address the broader issue of the impact of new technology on social interaction — or a lack of it — between students. It follows an internal review and a district-wide discussion among administrators in the Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools District.

Under the new policy, students would not be allowed access to their cellphones at MSMS during school hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Instead, phones must be left in a student’s locker or cubby, or turned off and in their backpack. School officials said students and parents would still be able to communicate through the school office. At Montpelier High School, the use of cellphones by students is already restricted to hallway use, lunch time and recess, school officials said.

On social media, the issue was widely discussed, with most parents strongly favoring the new procedure.

“The first thing I would say is, cellphones is not a new issue and I’m not really sure I would call it an issue — it’s a part of life,” said MSMS Principal Pam Arnold. “How we have addressed students with cellphones has been evolving over quite a few years.

“Our ultimate goal is there is no need for kids to have cellphones while they’re in school. We want to maximize kids’ ability to access their learning while we have them in school for seven and a half hours a day,” she added.

News of the cellphone procedure first came from MHMS Assistant Principal Matt Roy at the last school assembly before the summer break. An official communique from Arnold to parents will go out in the school newsletter this week.

“There’s absolutely no need for cellphones, educationally or socially, for the school day,” Arnold said. “For technology needs, all our kids have Chromebooks that we assign to them to use during the school day. We’re finding that in order for our kids to really maximize their access to learning, cellphones are one distraction that we can support eliminating.

Arnold said that there is also a need to increase personal contact between students.

“One of the things since computers came out, even before cellphones, is the ability to have those face-to-face conversations, to have eye contact with each other when you’re having a conversation, whether you’re working together or traveling through the hallways,” Arnold said. “When you’re looking down at a phone, it’s distracting for people and you can bump into people inadvertently.

“So, absolutely this is going to support those inter-personal, one-on-one conversations and communication. That’s a huge positive, that’s a huge benefit,” she added.

Arnold said there had been strong support from parents over time for a procedure that limited student access to cellphones during school hours.

“We have received nothing but positive feedback,” Arnold said.

Arnold stressed that the procedure would be refined over time, based on outcome and response from students and parents. Consequences for not following the procedure was still unclear and would be carefully considered before being implemented, Arnold said.

“Punitive is not a word that I would connect with this — that’s not what this is about,” Arnold said. “That would be the extreme. This is the business about building relationships with kids and families.

“There’s going to be some speed bumps for kids because they’re pretty attached to those phones, at times. But conversations and building rapport relationships are absolutely critical. We’re a learning institution that this is one piece of the puzzle,” she said.

Superintendent Libby Bonesteel echoed many of the observations and ideas about students having cellphones at school.

“One of the pieces of observational data that the principals and staff have noticed is that kids are walking through the hallways with their heads down and phone in hand,” Bonesteel said. “The idea of talking to each other was becoming rather obsolete.

“At that developmental age, we need and want kids talking to each other directly and not through texting,” she added.

Bonesteel said the new procedure was “technically” targeting the middle school but a similar policy was already in place at the high school.

The same ability for students and parents to communicate through the high school office existed at the high school, Bonesteel said.

The cellphone policy will be updated in the school’s handbook, and available online by Aug. 23.

Bonesteel also said there had been strong support for the new cellphone procedure at MSMS.

“I can tell you I have at least one student write to me and say, ‘Please ban cellphones. My friend and I don’t talk to each other anymore,’” Bonesteel said. “That I found very interesting.”

Bonesteel said there would be urgent situations — such as the incident at MHS involving former student Nathan Giffin in January 2018 — when it would be difficult to control or stop students and parents communicating via cellphone.

“I don’t honestly think we could control the situation,” Bonesteel said. “People are going to use what they have on hand.

“But it could also hinder investigations because false rumors are spread very quickly, and it could increase the crisis,” Bonesteel continued. “There are multiple perspectives, so it’s not an easy thing to talk about.

“I think we need to do a good job with the ethical use of technology; I think that’s the important piece,” she added.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Relaxing Ride

Debbie and Joe Witt, of Randolph, ride their recumbent trikes around Berlin Pond in Berlin recently.

Barre man pleads guilty to federal drug charge

BURLINGTON — A Barre man who agreed to be a confidential informant for police, but showed up with drugs on him, has admitted to the federal charge he faces.

Iman “Geo” Hardy, 44, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Burlington to a felony count of knowingly possessing with intent to distribute cocaine. Hardy has agreed to a sentence of three to five years to serve. He will be sentenced on Nov. 26. He’s been in the custody of the U.S. Marshals at Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton since his arrest in June.

Cpl. Jonathan Houle, of the Barre City police, said in his affidavit he was on patrol in Montpelier on April 29 when he spotted Hardy driving toward Berlin. Houle said Hardy has been a person of interest for the Street Crimes Unit because of reports it has received about Hardy selling drugs.

He said Hardy drove to the Berlin Mall, parked the vehicle and a female got inside. Houle said the female was in the vehicle for about five minutes before she left and got into a truck. He said he followed the truck and pulled it over for failing to use a turn signal.

Houle said he spoke to the female who had gotten into Hardy’s vehicle and she told him she had bought half a gram of cocaine from Hardy. Houle took the white, rock-like substance from the truck and it field tested positive for cocaine, according to court records.

Houle said Hardy was staying at the Econo Lodge in Montpelier, so he got a search warrant for Hardy’s room and his vehicle. Houle said the motel was under surveillance and Hardy was not there at the time so he checked around and found Hardy’s vehicle at the Comfort Inn in Berlin. Hardy was taken into custody and on him police found $3,000 in cash and two cellphones, according to court records.

Houle said inside Hardy’s vehicle police found $12,749, another cellphone and items like a scale and sandwich bags used for selling drugs. He said Hardy admitted to police he had been selling crack cocaine in the state.

On May 3, Houle said Hardy had agreed to work with the Street Crimes Unit as a confidential informant and was willing to participate in controlled buys. Houle said he met with Hardy on May 3 and Hardy was searched before the buy took place. He felt a hard object in Hardy’s backside and when asked what it was Hardy first told police it was a sex toy and then it was marijuana, according to court records.

Houle said Hardy eventually admitted the object was crack cocaine. Houle said the substance field tested positive for cocaine and weighed 13 grams.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Cleaning Up

A crane lifts a damaged dump truck onto a flatbed truck Thursday night following an accident on Interstate 89 in Montpelier. State Police closed the southbound lanes of the interstate just south of Exit 8 while the scene was cleared.

'Abe and Ann': A love unrequited

MONTPELIER — The legend of a love affair between a young Abraham Lincoln and a tavern owner’s daughter will be the subject of a unique author reading event at Vermont College of Fine Arts on Sunday.

To be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Gary Library, the event focuses on “Abe and Ann,” a newly published novel by well-known playwright, poet and teacher Gary Moore, who has a home in Vermont.

The event will include a ballad written by Moore, set to music by Brooklyn bluegrass band Cricket Tell the Weather and performed by local musician Fred Wilbur. Published by Komatik Press in May, “Abe and Ann” is Moore’s first novel. Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre will be on hand with copies of the book for Moore to sign after his performance.

Moore’s account of the controversial love story between Lincoln and Ann Rutledge is based on historical accounts and blends fact and fiction to bring to life the awkward young rail splitter just off his father’s farm and the feisty and literate tavern owner’s daughter who enthralled him.

Biographers have traced Lincoln’s years in the frontier village of New Salem, Illinois, where he wooed the auburn-haired daughter of the man who founded the little town of 100 residents. Recreating the joys and woes of the village love story was Moore’s mission, and readers of his story said it is compelling, heartbreaking and insightful.

In her review of the book, New York Times bestselling author Robin Oliveira said: “I love this book about the young, poverty-stricken, backwoods Abraham Lincoln courting his first love Ann Rutledge…. To me, ‘Abe and Ann’ is quintessential historical fiction because it beautifully and eloquently upends our revered assumptions about a beloved historical figure.”

Moore noted that Lincoln “wasn’t always a bearded wise man saving democracy” and showed signs of his inexperience when the affair is said to have occurred.

“My Lincoln is young, timid, homely and hopelessly in love,” Moore said. “We keep hearing that Lincoln was a common man. Well, I wanted to show him that way, at a time when he was young and vulnerable and had — as common people do — a profound love that changed his life.”

In the spell of their feelings, Moore said, the lovers questioned the limits in their lives and boldly dream of a better future. But, sadly for Lincoln, it is not to be, for Ann is engaged to another man.

Is the story true?

“I wanted to know that too,” Moore said. “Historians have gone back and forth about it, but the current judgment is that, yes, we have evidence that they loved one another.

“I lay out some of that evidence in essays posted to my blog and available on my website (www.garymoore.news) as ‘The Elusive Ann Rutledge.’ But history can’t tell us about the insides of the relationship any more than it can tell us about the insides of Abe and Ann. That takes a storyteller.

“If it sounds risky, it is,” Moore added. “Especially when we have little information about the magnetic and elusive Ann Rutledge who enchanted and inspired the young Lincoln. But it was exciting getting to know Ann as she came to life before me, and in some ways she is the book’s true hero. I hope my readers will fall in love with her as Abe Lincoln and I did.”

Moore’s previous work as a playwright and poet has made creative use of Abraham Lincoln for more than 30 years. His bilingual musical in Shanghai, “The Great Emancipator Meets The Monkey King,” introduced rap music to the People’s Republic of China six months before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. His play based on that experience, “Burning in China,” sold out at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival after being featured in the New York Times and recommended by The New Yorker magazine.

In addition to lecturing and presenting Lincoln-themed performance pieces and other plays on three continents, Moore has published two poetry chapbooks, “The Little Dog Laughed” and “He Cures by Alliteration,” and had poems featured in Hunger Mountain, Green Mountains Review, Numero Cinq, Circus Maximus and other periodicals. Moore studied poetry with Elliott Coleman at Johns Hopkins University and Allen Tate at the University of North Carolina. “Heavenly Bodies,” his collection of poems about humanity’s romance with the stars, will be released by NFB Publications in the fall.

To learn more about Moore, visit www.garymoore.news

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


“You don’t have to go hunting to find Vermonters living in poverty. They are all around, and the number of people struggling to make ends meet seems to be growing.”

Editorial, A4

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BTA Hotspot

Friday & Sat.

Collected Stories

Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies explores the complicated relationship between a famous teacher and her student as they battle over what, if anything, is off-limits in art. $15-$20, 7:30-9 p.m. Montpelier Unitarian Church , 130 Main St., Montpelier, jogreenvermont@gmail.com, 802-734-1013.