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Border residents rejoice as US says it will lift travel ban

SAN DIEGO — Beleaguered business owners and families separated by COVID-19 restrictions rejoiced Wednesday after the U.S. said it will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze.

Travel across land borders from Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to workers whose jobs are deemed essential. New rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set for air travel. By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., such as truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.

Shopping malls and big box retailers in U.S. border towns whose parking spaces had been filled by cars with Mexican license plates were hit hard by travel restrictions.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the economic impact was hard to quantify but can be seen in the sparse presence of shoppers at a high-end outlet mall on the city’s border with Tijuana, Mexico. The decision comes at a critical time ahead of the holiday shopping season.

In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau in the city of 35,000 people.

“Along the border, we’re like more of one community than two different communities,” she said.

The ban has also had enormous social and cultural impact, preventing family gatherings when relatives live on different sides of the border. Community events have stalled even as cities away from U.S. borders have inched toward normalcy.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where hockey and ice skating are ingrained, the Soo Eagles haven’t had a home game against a Canadian opponent in 20 months. The players, 17 to 20 years old, have been traveling to Canada since border restrictions were lifted there two months ago. Now the U.S. team can host.

“I almost fell over when I read it,” said Ron Lavin, co-owner of the Eagles. “It’s been a long frustrating journey for people on a lot of fronts far more serious than hockey, but we’re just really pleased. It’s great for the city.”

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been allowed into Canada since August, provided they have waited at least two weeks since getting their second vaccine dose and can show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Mexico has not enforced COVID-19 entry procedures for land travelers.

The latest move follows last month’s announcement that the U.S. will end country-based travel bans for air travel and instead require vaccination for foreign nationals seeking to enter by plane.

The new rules only apply to legal entry. Those who enter illegally will still be subject to expulsion under a public health authority that allows for the swift removal of migrants before they can seek asylum.

Travelers entering the U.S. by vehicle, rail and ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection. At officers’ discretion, travelers will have their proof of vaccination verified in a secondary screening process.

Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the U.S. That means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.

Officials said the CDC was still working to formalize procedures for admitting those who received doses of two different vaccines, as was fairly common in Canada.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner” and lauded the economic benefits of it.

Mexico, Canada and elected officials from U.S. border regions have pressured the Biden administration for months to ease restrictions.

“This is a win for families who’ve been separated and businesses and tourism industries whose operations have been blocked since the start of the pandemic,” said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, echoing reactions of other federal, state and local officials.

Cross-border traffic has plummeted since the pandemic, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures.

The number of vehicle passengers entering the U.S. in Niagara Falls, New York — the busiest land crossing on the Canadian border — fell 83% to 1.7 million in 2020 and has remained low this year.

“Losing those customers over the last 18 months has been one of the primary reasons our hotels, restaurants and attractions have been suffering,” said Patrick Kaler, president and chief executive of Visit Buffalo Niagara, the area’s tourism agency.

The move toward restoring regular travel comes as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have dropped to about 85,000 per day, the lowest level since July, following a spike from the more transmissible delta variant of the virus. Per capita case rates in Canada and Mexico have been been markedly lower in the two countries than the U.S. for the duration of the pandemic, which amplified frustrations about the U.S. restrictions on travel.

Jasper, 7, and Willow Winthrop, 3, check out some of their family’s elaborate Halloween display outside their home on Marvin Street in Montpelier.

Decor gets a thumbs up

Goddard College
Goddard alumni say "no confidence" in board, president

PLAINFIELD – A yet-to-be formalized group of Goddard College alumni have announced they have cast a vote of no confidence in the school’s Board of Trustees and its recently-hired president, expressing concerns with the direction of the school.

The Goddard College Alumni Association announced Tuesday it had a list of demands that, if accepted, would increase the amount of Goddard-affiliated members on the board.

Kailina Mills, co-founder and lead organizer for the group, said in the news release, “The leadership has shown disdain for alumni, faculty, student and staff perspectives, input and experiences. They’ve chosen to stifle campus community participation in decision-making processes — a stark departure from Goddard’s traditional practices.”

The board is currently made up of 50% of those who have a degree from the school or are a current or former faculty member. The group wants that percentage to increase to two thirds of board members being Goddard-affiliated.

There are currently 14 members on the board, according to Goddard’s website, and the group wants it expanded to 38, the maximum amount allowed under the school’s bylaws. It wants at-large members to be elected by the school community.

The group said doing this would “ensure that individuals who have personally experienced the Goddard pedagogy are more involved in the executive decision making of the College.”

The group has also expressed opposition to Dan Hocoy, whose hiring as president was announced in June. Hocoy took over for former president Bernard Bull on Aug. 1.

The group has published an 11-page statement laying out its concerns which include lack of community input before Hocoy was hired and what his motivations might be for the liberal arts school known for its low-residency model. Current students have said they are concerned the school might be sold out from under them. The alumni group has pointed to Hocoy’s expressed interest in “naming opportunities” where a corporation can get its name on part of the campus in exchange for money.

The group said this “demonstrates an interest in corporate and capitalist partnerships that violate the mission of the College.”

These concerns are similar to the ones expressed when Barbara Vacarr was president of the school from 2010 to 2013. Vacarr was criticized by alumni and faculty for her efforts to deal with the financial issues Goddard had been dealing with, including the possibility of corporate partnerships.

Officials at the school said they are not surprised by the group’s announcement.

Gloria J. Willingham-Touré, chair of the board, said Tuesday the board has met with this group and already discussed its demands. Willingham-Touré said the board is looking to diversify the school so increasing the amount of Goddard-affiliated board members would hurt that effort.

She said changing bylaws, which the group has demanded, takes time and the board needs to gather information before possibly doing so.

“We don’t just do it because someone says, ‘Do this now,’” she said.

Willingham-Touré said alumni were included in the presidential search, which she said she believed was a first for the school and she doesn’t know where the claim of lack of community input is coming from.

She said she understands this is a group of disgruntled alumni. She noted the effort to form an alumni association started in 2018 and the current group does not yet have an official recognition from the school. She said there is no memorandum of understanding between the two bodies so the group is on the outside looking in and doesn’t have all of the information about the inner workings of Goddard.

“We definitely want a full-fledged alumni association at Goddard,” Willingham-Touré said. “We think that’s really, really important. But we have to do it right.”

Hocoy said he has been involved in a naming opportunity in the past, specifically CitiBank offered SUNY-Erie $200,000 so it could put its name on a lounge while he worked there. He said doing so was consistent with that school’s values and would not at all be appropriate for Goddard. Hocoy said he knows some of Goddard’s history and understands “bank is a four-letter word.”

But he does want to look into partnerships that would be in keeping with Goddard’s values and suggested the school might partner with a credit union.

He said Goddard recently reached an agreement on a five-year contract with faculty to preserve Goddard’s unique pedagogy and there are no plans to sell the school.

“We, meaning myself and the Board, have no intention of selling the campus or engaging in a merger or acquisition. Absolutely not,” he said.

The group has criticized Hocoy for hiring two provosts which it said would be expensive for the school. He said the added expense is not true. Hocoy said he moved a dean and associate dean to provost and associate provost, at no additional cost to the school, so that they would have greater oversight over the school’s functions and be on campus regularly when before they had been working primarily out-of-state.

The campus is aging and there are mold and plumbing problems in some of the buildings. The school has offered to take in Afghan refugees and the alumni group called this a “publicity stunt” because there won’t be anywhere for those refugees to stay due to the maintenance issues.

Hocoy said the school is dealing with deferred maintenance and buildings with issues have been closed off and are awaiting repairs. He said there are still residences available for both students and refugees, though not at the same time. He said he’s let refugee organizations know when Goddard can accept refugees up until January so that they don’t conflict with a residency which lasts eight days at most. He said he would provide more dates at the start of the year.

“We’re not going to give them sub-standard accommodations,” he said.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

Patrick Brown, of Bradford, sports his clan’s tartan on a utility kilt Wednesday while directing traffic in Barre Town for Four Seasons Flagging.

Traffic Stopper

Task force proposes new funding mechanism for English language learners

A legislative task force is proposing a change the funding mechanism for English language learning students in Vermont K-12 schools.

The proposal was introduced last Friday at a meeting of the “Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report,” a joint legislative body that has been given the job of proposing a more equitable way to distribute money to school districts across the state.

Under the proposal, funding would be sent directly to school districts with English language learning students in the form of grants, or “categorical aid.”

Currently in Vermont, school budgets are developed at the local level by school boards and approved by voters. Funding, however, comes from the state education fund, which is funded in part by property taxes.

Those local tax rates are determined by spending per equalized pupil. A higher equalized per-pupil count means lower tax rates for a district.

To calculate per-pupil spending, the state applies a weighted formula that reflects the resources a district needs to educate students based on certain characteristics, including students living in rural areas, students from low-income backgrounds, students with different learning needs and students for whom English is not their primary language.

Yet a 2019 report commissioned by the Legislature found the existing formula to be “outdated,” with weights having “weak ties, if any, with evidence describing differences in the costs for educating students with disparate needs or operating schools in different contexts.”

The proposal would provide a $25,000 base grant to districts with at least one student, with $5,000 per each additional student. In total, the program is projected to cost $10.7 million.

Task force co-chair Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, said the proposal is structured in a way that will ensure districts have adequate funding to stand up English language programs regardless of how many students they have.

“It’s much more sensitive to the scale of English language programs in the district than the weights are because we are able to set up a minimum threshold,” she said.

Kornheiser said English language learning was isolated because the costs and requirements associated with such programs are known, whereas interventions needed to educate students living in rural areas or in poverty are less clear.

“It’s a much more specific educational intervention,” she said.

She said the goal of the proposal is to ensure that all English language learning students have access to adequate resources everywhere in the state, “regardless of a district’s tax capacity or a community’s ability to pay.”

But Mark Schauber, executive director of the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity, which represents more than 20 underweighted school districts, argued that the task force’s proposal will widen the disparity gap, not close it.

“We don’t believe that there’s any way to ensure that categorical aid is going to be consistent,” he said.

Schauber pointed to the state’s small schools grant program, which saw its eligibility requirements changed by the State Board of Education in the wake of Act 46 school consolidation process.

He added that relying on grants will raise taxes because it’s bringing more money into the system.

“It is our strong belief that there is plenty of money in the Education Fund as it is, it’s just not being allocated in a fair manner,” he said.

Kornheiser noted that categorical aid, as being proposed by the task force, would come from the Education Fund — not the General Fund, like other grant programs — and wouldn’t be at risk of being changed based on political decisions.

“We raise funds to match the need, we don’t determine the need based on available funds,” she said. “So something that is set up in statute as a funding formula isn’t any more possible or more likely to change year by year than the way the weights are set up.”

Kornheiser explained that the formula used in the English language categorical aid proposal was informed by the study and takes into consideration the increased costs for districts.

“We’re just saying we want to deliver that directly to districts rather than through a more complicated weighted tax formula,” she said.

Schauber, on the other hand, argued that creating a categorical aid program would only add complexity to an already complex funding system.

He is hoping the task force will apply the proposal to the weighting models presented in the study in order to provide a more accurate comparison.

“We haven’t seen the math,” he said. “I want everyone to have a base level of information and comparisons to make, so that we and the task force can truly evaluate what systems going to be best for our students.”

Kornheiser said she expected to have numbers on the application of the new weights next week.

Stephanie Yu, a policy analyst at the Montpelier-based Public Assets Institute, said categorical aid and pupil weighting are both useful tools to even out education costs from district to district across the state.

“I don’t think it’s an either/or,” she said.

Yu said Public Assets has raised concerns about the size of the proposed weights and has been urging the task force to explore categorical aid as another option.

“Higher per pupil spending districts are going to benefit more from a higher weight,” she said. “So it kind of creates this distortion in the system.”

Yu acknowledged criticisms of categorical aid, such as those around small schools grants, but suggested that those changes have been the result of policy debates and are not inherent to categorical aid as a funding mechanism.

Ted Plemenos, director of finance at Rutland City Public Schools, acknowledged that categorical aid could work “if done properly.” However, he raised concerns that such a strategy could create “unintended consequences,” by changing some parts of the study’s recommendations but not others “in spite of the data being analyzed, modeled and estimated holistically.”

Plemenos said that such “cherry picking” creates uncertainty.

“It begs the question … whether another analysis is appropriate in order to ensure that you’re still getting the outcomes that study was intended to provide,” he said.

He said the Rutland City school district, which is a member of the coalition, has “full confidence in the integrity, comprehensiveness and thoroughness” of 2019 the study, adding that he is in favor of implementing the weights as recommended and supplementing funding afterward as needed.

“I believe strongly that the empirical work that the study team did provides the best basis that there is, to date, for implementing recommendations,” he said.

jim.sabataso @rutlandherald.com

Praise for border reopening plan across northern New England

MONTPELIER — Political and business leaders from across northern New England on Wednesday praised plans by the Biden administration to begin allowing people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the United States across the land border with Canada.

The Department of Homeland Security announced late Tuesday that both the Canadian and Mexican borders would reopen early next month. It did not provide a specific date.

Officials across the region have for months been calling for the reopening of the border to nonessential travel, including tourism and family visits.

In a statement, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott called the move “a significant step forward on the path from pandemic to endemic management of COVID-19.”

“Vermont and Canada are not just neighbors, our communities are linked by family, friends, social and cultural connections, natural resources, commerce and more,” Scott said.

In a joint statement, the three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation also praised the move.

“It is good news that fully vaccinated family members and loved ones will now be able to reunify and businesses will once again be able to welcome Canadian visitors with ease,” said the statement by Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. “We know how much personal and financial hardship has been experienced on both sides of the border, and see the reopening as an important step in a long road to recovery.”

New Hampshire Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen also praised the announcement as did the state’s two members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This is a win for families who’ve been separated and businesses and tourism industries whose operations have been blocked since the start of the pandemic,” Shaheen said in a statement.

Maine independent Sen. Angus King said it was good to see the White House “creating a consistency in travel policy.”

Meanwhile, J.J. Toland, a spokesperson for the Jay Peak Resort, just south of the Canadian border in northern Vermont, which normally gets about half its business from Canadians, said the resort is still waiting to learn the details of what Canadians will have to do to cross between the two countries.

Details such as whether skiers will have to get a COVID-19 test before entering the United States and returning to Canada and what would be an acceptable timeline for those tests are still being worked out.

“Our expectations of potential Canadian business will become clearer as more travel guidance from DHS is issued,” Toland said in an email.


“This is the rotten fruit of our current politics. Our elected leaders are responsible for where we are and where we go from here.”

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On a roll

Spaulding girls soccer tops Peoples, 4-1, to earn its fifth straight victory. B1