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Barre charter changes in legislative limbo

BARRE — City Clerk Carol Dawes is concerned a legislative committee is slow-walking a recently expanded list of voter-approved charter changes because some of its members don’t like one of them.

It’s the flag-related one that wasn’t included in the latest version of the bill — H.444 — that was scheduled for a floor vote earlier this month when the House Government Operations Committee asked for another crack at it.

That was on April 6 — the same day a bill containing changes to Springfield’s charter was kicked back to the committee at its request. The Springfield charter changes have since cleared the House and are pending Senate approval this week. That bill reflects a compromise between an earlier version that passed the House and one that passed the Senate, though some minor differences remain.

Then there’s Barre’s charter changes — many of them approved more than a year ago, along with a fresh batch that passed on Town Meeting Day last month.

Nearly three weeks after delaying a scheduled House vote so that the committee could take additional testimony on a change that fleetingly enjoyed its unanimous support only to lose it a day later, H.444 remains in legislative limbo.

Dawes, who has been monitoring the committee’s weekly agenda’s, noticed the inactivity last week and sent an email to each of its members urging them to schedule a discussion of H.444.

“With all due respect, it feels like the Legislature is holding Barre City’s charter changes hostage because some legislators do not like one of the changes,” Dawes wrote.

“The language in question, related to the city’s display of flags, has been vetted by … City Attorney (Oliver Twombly) and by Legislative Counsel (Tucker Anderson), both of whom find it constitutional. There doesn’t seem to be any legal reason to withhold approval of the language — or the other charter changes — except for personal opinion,” she wrote.

Dawes noted, “questions about implementation of the flag-related language” could and should be worked out “on the local level,” and, she feared, delay could jeopardize passage of charter changes approved by Barre voters over the past two years.

Most of those changes, including one that would restrict the city’s ability to fly anything other than the city, state, U.S. and MIA/POW flags, passed by wide margins. The flag amendment passed, 927-549, last year. The closest of the 11 votes involved last month’s 663-574 approval of change that would authorize the City Council to impose a 1% sales tax.

Dawes indicated the voter-approved expansion of the local option tax — Barre already has a 1% tax on rooms, meals and alcohol — was yet another reason to pass H.444.

“Non-passage of the bill this session will have a significant negative financial impact on the city’s ability to maintain our capital needs through delay in the implementation of the local options sales tax,” she wrote.

Dawes’ nudge to act didn’t have a discernible effect based on the committee’s agenda for the week.

As of Monday, there were open time slots today and Wednesday and nothing else scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

If some of that “too be determined” time turns into a discussion of what to do about Barre’s charter changes Rep. Peter Anthony, D-Barre said Monday he would welcome it. However, Anthony, who serves on the committee said he’s in the dark with respect to what he described as “end-of-session gamesmanship.”

“It’s all hush-hush,” he said.

The sticking point is the flag amendment, which was stripped from the bill by Anthony’s committee, and ultimately the House last session but restored by the Senate when it took the legislation up earlier this year.

The Senate amendment initially was embraced by the House committee who, in an effort to expedite the latest Barre charter changes, amended the bill to include them, as well. That unanimous vote had a short shelf life and a short-handed committee reversed course the next day, voting, 7-2, to remove the flag language heading into a scheduled floor vote.

“All I can tell you is the leadership said ‘we’re not going to put it out on the floor,’ and they wouldn’t have done that unless they sensed it was a source of friction or conflict,” Anthony said of a charter change that he said he personally opposed and agreed to strip from the bill last year and again earlier this month.

Anthony, who bemoaned the injection of what he characterized as “culture wars” in the city’s charter, said he remained hopeful some of the charter changes would pass this session.

“I have made it crystal clear that what’s important to me and, I think the mayor and (City) Council, is the capital plan and local option tax,” he said.

Though it took Mayor Jake Hemmerick’s tie-breaking vote, the council recently approved a resolution urging lawmakers in Montpelier to approve a charter change that some view as an unnecessary infringement on government speech.

The charter change would preclude the city from displaying any flag other than the four proscribed by voters.

david.delcore

@timesargus.com


The 24th Annual Mutt Strutt was held on Sunday at the Little River State Park in Waterbury. The three-mile race is for dogs and their humans and helps raise funds for VT-CAN. The day’s winner was John Paul Krol and his dog, Felix. Krol is a Montpelier cross-country coach. He purchased Felix with his first stimulus check. The first female runner was Devyn LaFrance and her dog, Arlo. LaFrance is a Spaulding High School graduate.

Mutt Strutt


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Vermont Law School
Law school student claims discrimination due to race and sexual orientation

BURLINGTON — A Vermont Law School student claims she has been discriminated against because she is Black and because she responded she was heterosexual when she contested a grade and the professor asked her whether she was a member of the LGBTQ community, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The second-year law student asked she be allowed to file the civil rights lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Doe” to avoid retaliation from other faculty members, ostracism from student groups, mental harm, harassment and professional ostracism, a court motion notes.

Besides the Royalton law school, nine members of its administration and faculty are named as defendants for their alleged actions. They include Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity Shirley Jefferson, Adjunct Professor Heidi Remick, Vice Dean of Students Joseph Brennan, and Dean and Interim President Beth McCormack.

Doe, in her 22-page lawsuit noted while challenging a grade for a written assignment, she first asked whether she was being singled out as the only Black student in the class. Remick, an adjunct professor for narrative writing, said she was offended by the contents of Doe’s opinion assignment, known as an “op-ed,” but the plaintiff Doe asserted her First Amendment rights, the lawsuit said.

“Defendant Remick then asked the plaintiff if she was a member of the LGBTQ community because the defendant was a member of the community. Plaintiff replied she was not a member and raised concerns about whether her sexual orientation was an issue. Defendant Remick allegedly replied she wanted the Plaintiff to understand why she received a grade of 82,” the lawsuit said.

VLS had been notified in November 2020 that Doe needed reasonable accommodations for an attention deficit disorder, the lawsuit said.

For the next assignment Remick issued Doe a grade of 25 on Dec. 10, 2021, and said the plaintiff had “crossed the line from merely sloppy attribution to outright plagiarism” because the Plainitff who although she provide citations, did not “provide quotations of borrowed language,” the lawsuit noted. Doe objected to Remick’s claims.

Doe contacted Jefferson as Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity and said she believed the plagiarism allegations “were motivated by race as the only Black student with a disability who was heterosexual” in the class, court papers said.

Doe noted other students, who were white, did not provide quotations and had similar errors, but were not accused of plagiarism.

Jefferson then hinted Doe’s planned complaint to the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Office may have sunk her, the lawsuit noted.

“See I told you not to file the last complaint, you made yourself a target. This is why I gotta protect the Black students that stick with me because they do as I say. No one can touch my Black students and they know not to mess with them. I can only protect the Black students under my wings from bs accusations like that,” the lawsuit noted.

Jefferson added because the plaintiff was “not under (her) wings” that she, Defendant Jefferson, could not intervene, the lawsuit said.

Doe did eventually file a complaint with the U.S. DOE for claims under Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that gets federal funds or assistance. The DOE Office of Civil Rights in Boston acknowledged the complaint in a two-page letter Feb. 16.

McCormack and Brennan did not respond to messages on their cellphones seeking comment for the news story. Remick declined comment noting she needed to speak to legal counsel. Jefferson declined comment and referred questions to the public relations office.

VLS spokesman Justin Campfield issued a prepared statement Monday that said in part: “Vermont Law School takes these accusations very seriously. Since 1998, when it instituted its first diversity plan, the school has regularly and tirelessly implemented measures to create an educational and work environment of fairness, respect, and understanding among students, faculty, and staff,” it said. “We believe we have followed all applicable school, state, and federal policies.”

He said VLS would not have any further comment on pending litigation.

Conspiracy claimedDoe said she believes Remick — along with McCormack and Brennan — was the instigator of a conspiracy to harm the plaintiff, the lawsuit said. The conspiracy was designed to get the plaintiff to withdraw from the college or not be able to finish the year or graduate, Doe said.

Doe also maintains Brennan shared medical information with a third party without the plaintiff’s consent, the lawsuit said. Brennan also unregistered the plaintiff from classes because of her disability, denied her reasonable accommodations and retaliated against her because she filed a complaint with the U.S. DOE, the lawsuit said.

The other named defendants and claims in the lawsuit include:

— Jessica Durkis-Stokes, interim director of the Academic Success program and an investigator in the case for reportedly failing to provide notices of exhibits during the investigation due to Doe’s race and sexual orientation, the lawsuit said.

— Maureen Moriarty, the registrar and director of academic procedures, for reportedly unregistering Doe from her on-campus classes because of her disability, race and gender, the lawsuit said.

— Cynthia W. Lewis, vice dean for faculty and a professor, for reportedly denying Doe a copy of the investigator’s report based on her race and disability and retaliated against the plaintiff for filing the complaint with the DOE, the lawsuit said.

Lewis should also have known “the plaintiff was subjected to harassment, discrimination based on her race (Black), disability, gender (female) and sexual orientation (heterosexual) and retaliation by Defendants Brennan, Jefferson, Remick, Stokes and Moriarty when they denied her notice, right to due process, subjected to harsh grading, unregistration from on-campus classes …” the lawsuit said.

It also maintained Lewis permitted Doe “to be treated differently than White students and non-disabled students because of Plaintiff’s race (Black), and denied Plaintiff reasonable accommodations.”

— Ashley Ziai, director of student affairs and COVID-19 coordinator, for reportedly unregistering Doe from her on-campus classes because of her race and disability, the lawsuit said.

— Stephanie Willbanks, a professor of law, who reportedly graded harshly Doe’s final exam in a Torts class in December 2020 due to her race and disability and for not using the same grading system for White students, the lawsuit said.

Doe claimed she was assessed a 14-point penalty on Jan. 8, 2021, due to a late submission of the Torts exam, the lawsuit said. It said she appealed the penalty after learning a White student was not penalized for being four hours late.

When she appealed four days later, Doe was told by the defendants she could not attend the hearing on her appeal for a grade change, the lawsuit said. The defendants maintained VLS students were not allowed in appeal hearings. Doe said she appealed the denial to attend her hearing and that also was rejected, along with the grade change request, the plaintiff said.

Doe filed another request for reconsideration on Feb. 3, 2021, after defendant Jefferson advised if she withdrew her Civil Rights complaint about the defendants to the U.S. DOE and requested a 5-7 point penalty, she would speak to the Committee on Standards to change the grade, the lawsuit said.

The defendants denied Doe the right to attend her hearing, but on Feb. 4, 2021 they bumped her grade from C to C-plus.

Jefferson tried again on Feb. 10, 2021, to discourage Doe from moving forward with her civil rights complaint with the DOE, saying it would not be good for her, the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs appointed Burlington lawyer Nell Coogan, who is a Vermont Law School graduate, on March 17, 2021, to investigate Doe’s claims, the lawsuit said. The plaintiff said she was interviewed May 20, 2021, but believed Coogan was not an “independent” investigator, the lawsuit noted.

The school reported the investigation was complete on June 17, 2021, but refused to provide a copy of Coogan’s investigative report, court documents show.

It was at that point Doe filed her formal complaint with the U.S. DOE on June 20, 2021, claiming discrimination based on race and disability, the lawsuit said.

Doe began the online narrative writing course with Defendant Remick in October 2021 and things went further downhill, the lawsuit outlines.


The 35th Vermont Scholastic Elementary School Chess Championship was held on Saturday at the Capital City Grange Hall in Berlin. Eric Lu, a first-grader from Summit School in Essex, participated in Round 1 of the chess championship on Saturday.

Checkmate!


Teaser

“We need more people. We need diversity. We need to fire the economic engines, and take steps to update our demographics.”

Editorial, A4

Making a statement

Track and field title contenders excel during an early-season meet. B1.


Northfield's Preston Lilly competes in the shot put during a track and field meet at St. Johnsbury.


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