Ludlow resident disrupts GM board meeting over masking Public forum set for Thursday as meeting over Chieftain mascot mulled

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last Thursday, the board of the Green Mountain Unified School District followed in the footsteps of the Ludlow Mount Holly District board in delegating the decisions about handling health-related issues like mask mandates to Superintendent Lauren Fierman.

But before that could happen, the meeting was repeatedly and loudly interrupted by a member of the audience who believes that masks are harmful to children and that the decisions on mask wearing by students should be made by parents.

Kenneth Saccardo telling the board that masks are harmful to children Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Early in the meeting – during public comment – Kenneth Saccardo of Ludlow told the board, “Covid poses almost no risk to our kids.”

“Over 4 million kids have tested positive for Covid and .008 percent have died, which is less than the flu,” said Saccardo. “I do not want to see masks in the school on reopen.” Referring to an advisory memo from the Agency of Education and the Department of Health, Saccardo said “…that’s not a law, mandatory doesn’t mean law, required doesn’t mean law, mandated doesn’t mean law, ordered doesn’t mean law, ordinance does not mean law. The people on this board are on notice that the abuse of our children is not OK, masking is not OK….this is child abuse, I will not stand for it and many, many parents will not stand for that. This is a public school, you work for the public.”

Saccardo went on to say that the schools are teaching children that the air and other people “are poisonous” and this is damaging them psychologically.

Deciding who decides

Superintendent Lauren Fierman speaks about the authority to make decisions on health and safety for the school district

Moments later the board turned to the subject of school opening and Fierman explained that with the state of emergency revoked, the authority over decisions about health matters belongs to the local school district board. Board chair Joe Fromberger noted that on Aug. 8, 2020, the board delegated that authority to her and that it was technically still in effect.

“You have the authority to make all the little decisions yourselves or to delegate that authority to the administration,”  Fierman said, noting that the board could reverse that decision if members felt she was not doing a good job with it.  She also pointed out that delegating the authority doesn’t mean the board will be in the dark about what the administration is doing.

Fierman pointed out that by delegating the authority the board would not have to hold emergency meetings every time a single decision – such as quarantining a classroom or classrooms – has to be made.

Vice chair Deb Brown began to make the motion to delegate that authority to Fierman but was interrupted by Saccardo who asked if that meant one person would be making the decisions. When Brown was finished, Saccardo shouted “preposterous.”

Fromberger called for the vote when member Michael Studin offered an amendment to exempt the wearing of masks from the authority delegated to Fierman and allowing parents to decide whether their children would or would not wear masks.

Board member Abe Gross calls for order or asks that the public be removed

While Fromberger and Studin spoke about the amendment Saccardo again interrupted.

At that point, board member Abe Gross addressed Fromberger, “Mr. Chairman, if you cannot control the public, I request you remove the public from the meeting.”

After some discussion about whether the amendment was in order, Gross pointed out that at a government run school you have to follow the rules set out to protect the students. He noted that in wood shop you have to wear goggles and in the ski program you have to wear helmets.

Studin said that parents should have an option such as remote learning rather than masking.

And again, Saccardo interrupted regarding masking on school buses.

“If the public cannot be controlled, they will have to be removed.” said Gross.

“And who’s going to do that?” asked Saccardo.

The appeal (to give parents control over masking) failed by a vote of three to six and the main motion to delegate the authority passed eight to one with Studin voting against.

Opening school as Covid returns

With the delegation issue decided, Fierman explained her plans for opening starting with a public forum to answer the questions of parents. On Monday, Aug. 23 Two Rivers Supervisory Union announced that the forum has been scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

Fierman said that she would be following the recommendations of the Agency of Education, the Vermont Department of Health as the Centers for Disease Control. Everyone in the schools will be masked for the first 10 days of school. After that, masks will be optional in any building where 80 percent of the students in that building are vaccinated. That means that with no vaccine available for those under age 12, the elementary schools will be masking until a shot becomes available and students receive it.

“Next time we’ll have a policeman here,” said board chair Joe Fromberger

Masks will not be required outdoors and distancing will only be required during lunch, which will not be held in the cafeteria to avoid exposing multiple classrooms if there is an unmasked person who is positive. And as with all public transportation, masks will be required on school buses. Fierman explained that there are also instructional situations where masks can be removed and that Covid testing will be available for students in the schools.

Pointing to statute, Fierman said that under 16 VSA 563 the board “may take any action that is required for the sound administration of the school district” and under 16 VSA 834 the district owes “its students a duty of ordinary care to prevent the students from being exposed to unreasonable risk.”

With motion to delegate passed, and Fierman having spelled out how she intends to proceed, Saccardo again interrupted.

“Abe I’m going to speak directly to you and the rest of the board. To leave the decision to her, you’re all cowards, you’re all cowards, to leave it to her is not fair, thank you.” shouted Saccardo over Fromberger’s objections.

“Next time we’ll have a policeman here,” said Fromberger.

Mascot forum to be scheduled

The board is looking for a time to schedule a public forum to discuss the school’s “Chieftain” mascot. Fromberger said the question arose from comments made by students last year and from a long letter about the mascot that recently was sent to board members.

Recording secretary Amber Wilson asks that the mascot discussion includes Indigenous People.

Fromberger suggested Wednesday, Nov. 10, saying  he wanted to schedule it following the Sept. 7 school reopening, which he expected to be difficult. Fierman noted that there are conflicts on that date including parent/teacher conferences. Gross suggested that the school contact members of the tribes that have lived in Vermont so they could be included in the discussion. Fromberger said he would try to make those contacts and work on finding another date.

Recording secretary Amber Wilson, noting that her husband and two children are Chieftains and she is of Native American descent, said she hoped that the board would hear from Indigenous People so this would not be just a Caucasian discussion.

Surplus for 20/21 school year

TRSU business manager Cheryl Hammond told the board that the district was looking at an “unaudited” surplus of just over $1.4 million or approximately 10 percent of the budget. Hammond told The Telegraph that it came from under-spending on a number of lines including the principal’s office, transportation and sports and not filling some positions during the pandemic. Voters will recall that the 2020-2021 budget was approved by voters in March 2020, just before the Covid-19 state of emergency was declared.

Once the funds have been audited, according to Hammond, the surplus can be carried forward onto a future budget or rolled into a reserve account for future use or both. The reserve option must be approved by the voters of the district.

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  1. Sharon Jonynas says:

    I’d like to thank Sara Stowell for her thoughtful response and for providing all of us with resources to read and be receptive to. Your work for our community and for the board’s benefit is much appreciated. Using a group of people as a mascot is just no longer acceptable. It’s way past time to change this.

  2. Stu Lindberg says:

    Scotland and Ireland have a long ancient and proud linguistic history of using the word chieftain to define wise and powerful leaders. Maybe it would be less offensive to those sensitive members of our community if we replaced the native American logo with a white red headed Northern European.

  3. Stu Lindberg says:

    Homeschooling, private and parochial schools are enormously popular. This school board meeting reveals why so many parents are taking control of their children’s education.

  4. Sara Elizabeth Stowell says:

    Dear Mr. Fromberger,

    Thank you for addressing the recent letter you received regarding the GM logo. I believe it is time for a change. GM is the last school in VT to maintain a racist mascot – In my opinion, the depiction of the nameless man with a non-descript headdress on our logo, baseball dugouts and gym wall need to go. I encourage you all to read the letter (first link below) from Melody Walker Brook, and citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe. She makes many excellent points including noting that a generic Indian mascot like GM’s literally wipes out the identify of 500+ nations. Our mascot does nothing to teach us about the people on whose land our school sits. As far as I know, we have no curriculum that discusses indigenous history, culture, or current status or events or in any way intentionally teaches and celebrates anything or anyone that could be vaguely associated with the mascot. We are told we should be proud of something we do nothing to teach or learn about as a school community.

    At the board meeting, you stated that you would be looking for resources to inform this conversation. I reached out to Rich Holschuh of the Atowi Project asked if he would be willing to be a resource, and he has given me permission to pass along his name and email to you and the board. He is cc’d on this mail.

    Below you will find some other resources from Vermonters from the Abenaki people that will be useful as you lead this conversation.

    Personally, I think the time for conversation is over and GM needs to come up with a new mascot. I am a graduate of Black River High School. For years, we were the First Ladies, as though women couldn’t also be Presidents. My identity as a state champion, 3 sport athlete was not harmed in the least when BRHS finally called women the Presidents. I remember my teammates, our coaches, the great state-wide competition, and coming home parades lead by the fire department, – not the mascot. GM’s history in sports, theatre and more will continue to be that of individuals and teams who came together to compete and have fun. The titles and trophies are no less meaningful because a mascot changes. When I see my cousin Karen Stowell’s name on the wall for holding a GM track record, I don’t think “oh, Karen the Chieftain, or Karen, the Squaw.” I think, wow – she was amazing at the high jump. I think of the work Jon Peters and countless others put into building the amazing track facility we have now. I think how GM welcomed me to run track & field because BR didn’t have a team. How sad it would be to think that anyone’s accomplishments are related to a mascot, and not a group of individual who came together in support of great kids, teachers and staff, with great communities to back them up.

    The time to act is now.…/elnu-abenaki…/

    With regards,

    Sara Stowell

  5. Lee Herrington says:

    I question the board’s legal authority to abdicate the policy making duty so broadly to their executive given the lack of declared state emergency right now. I’ve only had a little bit of schooling in administrative law but government rule making typically allows for notice, waiting periods, and public comment before a regulation is voted on.

    16VSA563(1) quoted here specifically requires proposed policy be published a minimum of 10 days before a public meeting. There was nothing in the agenda that suggested such an important long term policy change would be made at this meeting.

    The other law quoted by Superintendent Fierman, 16VSA834, makes reference to ordinary care from unreasonable risk. Given the documented and scientifically proven minuscule risk COVID poses to children, this decision does not seem to fit the wording of this statute.

    The recommendations from the public health officials at the state and the unelected AAP to mask our kids is much akin to making all children wear helmets at recess because kids might collide with each other and bump their heads while playing tag. If everybody is helmeted it makes tag much safer doesn’t it? A good example of ordinary care is how we protect our student athletes. Our football players have to wear helmets because collisions are likely while our soccer players do not even though collisions occasionally occur, hence not as likely.

  6. A Perry says:

    I’m with Mr. Saccardo on this. There was absolutely nothing common sense about masking our children. How many times in the last 18 months have you heard the term, make it make sense? It doesn’t. I know on the surface it seems like we’re protecting them, but what we’re really doing is making our children suffer irreparable damage so that we can feel better about ourselves.

    It should be left to the parents to decide if they want their child masked. No matter the age. No matter the vaccination status. We are clearly seeing that the vaccination does little to nothing as far as spread goes. Masking our kids poses many psychological, emotional and health issues. These issues differ depending on the age group. There are many studies out there from which you can educate yourself on the damage masking our kids is doing. For the younger kids who are learning social and facial cues, an entire school year let alone a second entire school year of masking is detrimental in the extreme. This push for school masking this year is simply by a recommendation of the AOE. It is not a mandate, it is not a ordinance, it is not a law. It is nothing more than a recommendation by the government body.

    Furthermore allowing one person to make unilateral decisions for the entire District is unacceptable. We appoint and or elect people to the boards so that different views are represented, votes are taken, allowing a modicum of fairness in decisions that affect hundreds of people. This is the board’s job. Passing this off to one person is like passing the Hot Potato. It is weak, is not in the best interest of the students or parents in this school district. I, for one, will continue to push for parental rights on every front. If you’re not going to offer a virtual choice, you cannot make an ultimatum about masks.

    Finally, we’ve been The Chieftains for decades. This argument has come up time and again. I’ve been attending Green Mountain and graduate from there I was proud to have The Chieftains as mascot. It was never derogatory, it was never negative, and there is nothing wrong with it. Leave The Chieftains alone. Get a hobby.

  7. Sara Elizabeth Stowell says:

    Dear Joe,

    I’ll be emailing the board members shortly with a list of contacts regarding the mascot issue. In the meantime, you all can continue your research here:

    It is time to change our mascot!

    Congrats to the majority on voting common sense on masking. We protect our most vulnerable with masks.

  8. Edward McEneaney says:

    Shawn, I never got a chance to say farewell on my journey to a warmer climate. However, I read your articles and just want you to know that your reporting is exemplary. You are a true journalist/news reporter and are one of the few examples of how news should be reported. Classic style, straightforward information, and no personal opinions. I wish the best for you and hope you continue. I wish, also, that your perspective was on a national level, however, the people of the local area are lucky to have you. Ed McEneaney (the weird guy behind the camera for many years at Okemo Valley TV). Hope we get a chance to meet again.