MONTPELIER — Student activists disrupted a session at the State House Thursday to protest a lack of legislation to combat climate change in Vermont.
Members of the newly formed Extinction Rebellion in Vermont unfurled banners, shouted protests from the balcony of the House chamber and threw hundreds of leaflets onto legislators below, forcing House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle-Chittenden, to adjourn the session. Capitol Police officers asked protesters to leave and eventually arrested three students, who were charged with unlawful trespass and disorderly conduct.
The climate activists were part of a new U.S. movement, following in the footsteps of the Extinction Rebellion that began in Britain last year with protests that paralyzed central London with sit-ins on city streets by thousands of protesters. The socio-political movement uses non-violent resistance to protest climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological collapse that could lead to human extinction, hence the movement’s name.
Thursday’s protest followed last month’s five-day march from Middlebury to Montpelier by climate activist group 350VT, and this month’s Rally for the Planet by the Vermont Youth Lobby — both to lobby lawmakers do more to combat climate change.
A large banner unfurled over the balcony read, “See you in January,” as did the leaflets rained down on legislators, telling them that student activists would return for the next session in the State House and continue to press their cause.
Participants in the protest included Jennifer Skinder — her two children, Asa, and Carmen, were both arrested in the protest, along with Alec Fleisher.
Skinder was one of the protesters who heckled legislators from the balcony.
“I’m a single mother with three kids — two of them are here today,” she said. “I’m here interrupting your business today because I’m terrified about my children’s futures and because I’m angry that my government’s response has been so tepid.”
Skinder reeled off a list of major environmental disasters that included fires, floods, droughts and cyclones as a result of rising carbon in the atmosphere that was driving climate change.
“These are not unrelated events,” she said. “People are rising up in the streets around the world to demand action on this emergency.
“I implore you to make this your number-one priority,” she added, and was soon led out by a Capitol Police officer.
Karen Bixler, of Bethel, also shouted from the House chamber balcony.
“Renewable energy is one of the most effective tools we have to fight climate change,” Bixler said. “It will create new jobs and stimulate the economy. Vermont can easily take the lead in this industry.”
Rory Patch, of Ferrisburg, noted that the Intergovernmental Science-Policy on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services said the deteriorating health of ecosystems “are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
“The report also tells us that is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start at every level, from local to global,” he added.
The youngest protester arrested, Carmen Richardson-Skinder, aged 15, was cited to appear in Washington County family court in July.
“I think it was effective, towards media coverage, that we have young people here, willing to get arrested, because we’ve done a lot of youth protesting that has not really had a huge impact,” said Richardson-Skinder. “We were prepared to stay there for up to 40 minutes, and they (the police) really reacted quickly. My mom was the second speaker, and after two sentences, she was escorted out.”
Her brother, Asa Skinder, 18, an environmental studies freshman at Middlebury College, was also arrested and was cited to appear in Washington County criminal court on Thursday, May 23, together with fellow Middlebury College junior Alec Fleisher.
“I came in with the intention of being arrested,” Skinder said. “I’m tired of just non-disruptive protests and them not listening to us, so if we can make it a little rowdier, why not?”
“I didn’t just show up here for the first time,” Fleisher said. “I’ve walked here from Middlebury. I’ve been here with the Vermont Climate Lobby. I’ve probably done six or seven protests in this building. Sometimes you have to amplify your voice, so that’s what we did today.
“It was a full chamber and I really do hope they remember our message,” he added.
Rep. Selene Colburn, a progressive from Burlington, was the only legislator to vote against the House budget because she said legislators had not done enough to address climate change.
“I appreciate that there are people in our community letting us know that business as usual is not going to be an effective strategy when it comes to responding to climate change,” Colburn said. “I can tell you that we’ve had hundreds, thousands of people streaming through this building on this issue, very politely, and I don’t feel like we’ve responded to them accordingly. So, I certainly understand the impulse to disrupt the way we’ve been doing things.”
“I welcome the feedback from Vermonters on how the Legislature is tackling climate change,” Johnson said in an email Thursday. “I believe we are in a climate crisis and action must be taken, but I also believe that action must be thoughtfully approached so that we take into account the full impact to Vermonters.”
She pointed to her own role as a young person standing by her principles as an example.
“My past includes participation in peaceful civil disobedience and I strongly believe it’s important for Vermonters to exercise their rights, and for elected representatives to hear from Vermonters,” Johnson wrote to The Times Argus. “I recognize that it is their right to voice their opinions and concerns but I was disappointed that this group chose to disrupt the Legislature to the point we could not continue business and had to recess business in the middle of a critical environmental protection bill. I hope they bring this same energy to the ballot box, to conversations with their elected representatives, and to engaging and mobilizing their communities on the issue of climate change.”
To view video of the protest, visit www.facebook.com/xrebellionvt/.
MONTPELIER — The Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools Board has rejected a call to formulate a new policy to help students better understand their sexuality and address issues around sexual assault.
The decision followed an appearance at Wednesday’s board meeting by two parents who said the school district should do more to help students navigate the difficulties around “coming of age,” questions about sexuality beyond human biology and combating sexual assault in the MeToo era.
School Board members and Montpelier High School Principal Mike McRaith were sympathetic to the issues raised but reluctant to embark on crafting a new policy that could be challenging for faculty and administrators to address.
The parents presenting were Barbarina Heyerdahl, a mother of four children — two of whom had attended MHS — and Andy Dorwart Crane, a midwife and mother who works for Planned Parenthood, although she was at the meeting as a private citizen.
“We share a passion for all things sexuality and talking to kids about sexuality,” said Heyerdahl, who also works as a community activist on a variety of issues.
Heyerdahl said she decided to raise the issue after the arrest of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, and Brett Kavanagh’s congressional hearings after the U.S. Supreme Court nominee was accused of sexual assault in his high school years. Heyerdahl said she also remembered similar hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, also accused of sexual assault. Both nominees were subsequently appointed to the bench, despite the controversies.
“What kind of a message does that send to our young men and our young girls, that what happens to a girl’s body is really not of consequence in young men’s lives and the power they may get?” Heyerdahl asked.
Through her own work, Crane said she had encountered an MHS student who asked for an intrauterine device before going to college because she was worried about being raped and getting pregnant, based on statistics of sexual assault in higher education institutions.
“So, we have that kind of student who is prepared, but, oh, my goodness, can we do something about that, in terms of our community?” Crane asked.
Crane said there was strong interest among parents in the school district and the community to have discussions about healthy sexual development. But she said there was “fear” among educators about “misstepping” in the MeToo era and losing their jobs.
Crane said a survey of students showed that they wanted “an askable adult” that could help answer questions they had about their sexuality.
“That’s why we’re here today — we would love the School Board to be supportive, maybe on a policy level,” Crane said.
Speaking after the meeting, School Board Chairman Jim Murphy said health and sex education is a part of the curriculum developed by administrators that the board is not directly involved in. Board members and administrators noted that issues around sex education were also considered under several school district policies that cover diversity, equity and inclusion; drugs and alcohol; and harassment, hazing and bullying.
“However, the board is very interested in how the important matters of sexuality, healthy relationships, substance use and other important matters are being talked about and discussed at our schools and our broader community,” Murphy said, adding that the board was committed to continuing the conversation, assessing available resources and providing assistance to help students “become healthy, whole adults.”
“This will help us assess whether we need further investments in support structures for our students around these important life issues,” Murphy said.
In other business, board member Lisa Frost announced she was resigning from the board because she is moving from Roxbury to Plymouth, New Hampshire. Murphy and other board members thanked Frost for her service. A search will begin immediately to find her replacement, Murphy said.
BURLINGTON — Testimony focused on cell phone towers and text messages during the ninth day of the trial of a Williston man on trial for driving the wrong way on Interstate 89 and slamming into a car carrying five teenagers from the Mad River Valley.
The state and defense attempted to show the movements and behavior of Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, before he slammed his truck head-on into the teens’ car. He was speeding, headed in the wrong direction and had various drugs in his system during the crash at about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016 in Williston, police have said.
The flaming crash killed Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown and Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown.
Bourgoin has denied five counts of second-degree murder. He also has pleaded not guilty to two subsequent misdemeanor charges: aggravated operation of a Williston Police cruiser without permission by taking it from the accident site and later reckless driving of the police vehicle by driving it into the first crash scene.
The defense is attempting to show that Bourgoin was criminally insane at the time. While the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a defendant only has to show insanity by a preponderance of the evidence.
Bourgoin, who grew up in Rutland, has maintained he was being secretly recruited for a special government mission. He said he was getting messages from music on his car radio, static on his TV and lights at the ATM machine.
Two witnesses took the stand during the half-day session on Thursday. Judge Kevin Griffin said he needed to preside in drug court in the afternoon so the jury was sent home shortly after noon.
The founder of a company that handles cellular geo-location mapping, analysis and training testified about the whereabouts of Bourgoin’s cellphone on the days leading up to the crash.
Sy Ray, the founder of ZetX Corp. in Arizona, testified about the technology that allowed him to lock in the travels of a cellphone assigned to Bourgoin.
“The records are the records,” the retired police homicide detective said.
Ray appeared to confirm earlier statements attributed to Bourgoin that he destroyed and/or threw away his cellphone the night before the crash. Ray said the phone’s signal went dead at 8:42 p.m.
He also appeared to confirm reports that Bourgoin had indicated he went to McDonald’s in Essex to get a pumpkin muffin the night before the crash. He texted McDonald’s about a job that evening.
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Cari Crick, who works in the technology division, testified about a long list of phone calls and text messages that Bourgoin received in the week leading up to the crash.
Deputy State’s Attorney Susan Hardin had Crick note the various calls from Pay Pal, Capital One Bank and other possible entities seeking to collect money from Bourgoin, who had expressed frustration about his low pay at Lake Champlain Chocolates in Williston.
Police have said Bourgoin was in a downward spiral with financial issues, including foreclosure and utility shutoffs in the days and weeks leading up to the crash. Many of the texts reflected he was up to 2 or 3 a.m.
Among the calls was one to Todd Taylor on Oct. 7 at about 5:43 p.m., Hardin said. When asked if she knew who Taylor was, Crick said she did.
“Todd Taylor, Todd Taylor,” responded Crick, breaking into song like the radio commercial for the Colchester lawyer, who specializes in bankruptcy.
On cross examination, defense lawyer Robert Katims asked if Crick was aware of lawsuits for illegal robocalls. Crick said she knew there had been a news conference in South Burlington this week talking about the annoyance they cause.
There also was testimony about Bourgoin connecting with his old brother, Kevin, who is a coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. He also reached out to an old classmate, Chris Whitney, who had worked with actor Ryan Reynolds.
Bourgoin said he was focused on increasing his visitation rights with his daughter.
Hardin and State’s Attorney Sarah George have four more witnesses, including Dr. Paul Cotton, a psychiatrist. The state hopes to use him to offset the testimony of their initial expert and a defense expert, who both testified Bourgoin was insane.
Judge Griffin told the jury the testimony could end Friday. The judge said closing arguments and his explanation of the law are coming on Monday.
EAST MONTPELIER — The transition from a six-school supervisory union to a five-town school district cleared another hurdle this week as voters in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester ready to collectively elect a new school board to run the Washington Central Unified Union School District.
In what will be a first-of-its kind special election, polls will be open in all five Washington Central communities on Tuesday.
Polling hours vary slightly from community to community. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Calais, East Montpelier and Middlesex, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Berlin and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Worcester.
In East Montpelier, voting will occur at the local elementary school, while voters in Berlin, Calais, Middlesex and Worcester will all cast ballots at their respective town offices.
Though two representatives will be elected from each community, they will be chosen by voters from all five towns.
The shift to district-wide elections shouldn’t matter much on Tuesday, with candidates for nine of the 10 seats running unopposed. The only contested race involves one of Calais’ two seats and pits Christopher Cadorette against Dorothy Naylor.
Cadorette and Naylor are both members of the Calais School Board elected by voters in Calais. Whoever prevails on Tuesday will do so based on the combined results of voting in Calais and the other district towns.
The board’s election will occur days after the board, which had been handling the transition as part of one of several state-ordered mergers, met for the last time.
The transitional board concluded its work Wednesday by recommending a slate of proposed amendments to the articles of agreement for the soon-to-be-elected school board.
One of those amendments — if blessed by the board and ultimately approved by voters — would expand the new board from 10 to 15 members while retaining the process of “at-large” elections as a way of avoiding proportional representation. Under that principle, larger towns — like Berlin and East Montpelier — are entitled more board seats than smaller communities, like Calais and Worcester. Allowing all towns to vote on representatives from all communities is an acceptable way to sidestep that constitutional requirement.
The most notable of the other amendments would require the town in which a school is located to separately approve its closure in the event it is approved by the school board. The transitional board and a study committee before it wrestled with that article for months, with some arguing it was an excessive protection and a district-wide vote should suffice and others insisting voters most affected by such a proposal should have have the opportunity to veto it.
The board recently split on a modified proposal that would have required any future school closure proposal to be approved in successive years by votes in the community where the school is located.
Five members of the transitional board are running unopposed for seats on the new board and a sixth — Naylor — could also be elected Tuesday. Those members have expressed differing opinions on the school closure question.
Once elected, the new board will have to act swiftly to warn a June 25 vote on the recently recommended budget for the new district and decide whether to include a vote on the amendments to the articles of agreement at that time.
Some have argued there is no urgency to scheduling a vote on amendments that have been discussed at length by a committee but never presented to the public. They have questioned the wisdom of presenting a package of changes on a day when turnout is expected to be low.
Others maintain the changes are important and should be presented to voters before — not after — the new pre-K-12 district is scheduled to be launched on July 1.
The board elected next Tuesday may make that decision when it meets for the first time next Wednesday.
“It’s not exactly reassuring to know that President Trump doesn’t want to go to war with Iran, but it sure seems as though some members of his administration wouldn’t mind an escalating conflict.”
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Looking at ways to keep kids from vaping. A2
A Barre deli owner gets national attention on the Food Network this week. A3
Local arraignments and the Montpelier Police Log for this week. A3
After multiple worldwide tours, Tash Sultana is returning to North America for a run of headline shows and festivals. Doors open at 6 p.m. Show at 7 p.m. Shelburne Museum, 6000 Shelburne Road, Shelburne.