On June 8, 2022

Phil Scott signs bills on free school meals, offensive school mascots

By Peter D’Auria/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott has signed two important bills affecting schools statewide. One create a one-year pilot program of free breakfast and lunch for Vermont students and the other bans offensive school mascots.

The governor’s signatures represent victories for anti-hunger advocates and for activists who have pushed to retire mascots that stereotype marginalized communities, most visibly Indigenous people. The law is likely to apply to the recently reinstated Rutland Raiders mascot, but the school board won’t discuss the topic again until August.

By Bob LoCicero/VTDigger
Gov. Phil Scott signs bills with lawmakers and the press.

Free meals

During the pandemic, federal dollars paid for free school meals for students. But legislation extending that program has stalled in the U.S. Senate, and money is expected to run out before the upcoming school year.

Backed by the nonprofit Hunger Free Vermont, legislators proposed using surplus education fund money to extend the program through the next school year. Lawmakers approved S.100, a plan to create a $29 million, one-year program to provide free breakfast and lunch to Vermont students who attend public school, or independent schools with public tuition money.

Scott initially appeared unenthusiastic about the plan, suggesting that funding a one-year pilot might lead to future tax hikes.

“Creating a new universal program with one-time money could, as the Legislature has discussed, lead to regressive tax increases that in part pay for meals for children from affluent families who do not need the financial help,” Scott spokesperson Jason Maulucci said in late April.

But on Tuesday, Scott signed the bill anyway.

“As the Governor has said, he supports the state doing more to help vulnerable families in need — but he will not support forcing working families to pay more in taxes to essentially pay for the more affluent to get free meals,” Maulucci said Tuesday in an email. “But, that will be a debate for next year if the Legislature chooses to pursue that path.”

Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, said the organization was “thrilled” at the news of the governor’s decision. “We’re confident that universal school meals is going to prove its value in the coming year, and that the Legislature will make it a permanent program,” she said.

Mascots

Scott also signed S.139, which will require the Vermont Agency of Education to create a “nondiscriminatory school branding policy.”

That policy will prohibit schools from having mascots or other identifying materials based on “the race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity of any person or group of persons,” or any person or group “associated with the repression of others.”

That bill was introduced just days after the Rutland School Board voted to reinstate the high school’s controversial Native American-themed mascot, the Raiders.

Lawmakers approved the proposal by a comfortable margin, but not before it sparked a debate about local control. Opponents argued that the bill would undermine school districts’ ability to make their own decisions and policies.

“Every year, more and more control is taken by this building, and by this town, and by officials in our government in Montpelier,” outgoing Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, said of the bill during a floor debate earlier this month.

But the bill’s supporters, including Indigenous Vermonters, argued that offensive mascots inflict psychological harm on students, especially those who belong to the communities being stereotyped.

“When we as a society marginalize and shape human beings into caricatures, we are complicit in the violence against them, metaphorically and literally,” Melody Walker Brook, a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki, told lawmakers in submitted testimony in February.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Large turnout for Hartland school budget info session

May 23, 2024
By Curt Peterson The May 21 Hartland school budget information session may be the best-attended school board gathering in recent history — an estimated 40 people attended in person at Damon Hall in Hartland, and another 41 tuned in online. Hartland voters had already approved the $11,040,567 budget 320-311 on April 2. But a petition…

United Way of Rutland County names new exc. director

May 22, 2024
The United Way of Rutland County (UWRC) announced the appointment of Tina Van Guilder as its new executive director, May 17.  Van Guilder officially assumed her role as executive director May 6. With over seven years of direct non-profit leadership experience in the Rutland County area, coupled with recent roles focusing on grant coordination, budget…

Gov. Scott vetoes bill that would’ve restricted bee-killing pesticide

May 22, 2024
Staff report On Monday, May 20, World Bee Day, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation meant to protect bees and other pollinators from a widely-used neuorotoxic pesticide. The bill (H.706) would  eliminate most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) in Vermont, which have been associated with alarming losses of managed and wild bee populations. Neonic insecticides are used on…

Slate Valley school district to hold fourth vote on district budget

May 22, 2024
In response to the results of the last vote on May 9, and valuable community feedback during the school board meeting on May 13, the Slate Valley Unified Union School District will hold its fourth vote in an attempt to pass the budget on May 30. It will be a revote on the third FY25…