Rutland school board adopts attorney’s report
By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
RUTLAND — After a contentious year debating the validity of the mascot for the city’s school system, it appears the new “Ravens” moniker will stick — for now.
The board last fall voted to abandon the former “Raiders” mascot following concerns from students, faculty and alumni about racism in its origins, but some members of the public have tried to get the name reinstated.
At the Rutland City Board of School Commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday night, board members voted to adopt the findings of a recent report by a Burlington-based attorney, which said that the board’s February vote to adopt the Ravens mascot was binding.
Rutland voters elected several new board members the following month. With a new composition, the board called for an independent review to determine whether the previous board’s actions followed correct procedure.
Attorney Christopher Leopold, of the law firm McNeil Leddy & Sheahan, found that although the board deviated slightly from Robert’s Rules of Order, which establishes guidelines for public meetings, the actions were valid.
The board on Tuesday, Sept. 28 discussed other aspects of Leopold’s report, including his recommendation that the board seek training on Robert’s Rules of Order and consider adopting a version designed for small boards, which would be easier to follow. The board voted to refer the issue to the policy committee.
Melinda Humphrey, a former member of the Rutland City Board of Aldermen, asked the board to speak specifically about the mascot.
“As a city resident, there’s kind of an elephant in the room,” she said. “What are we going to do now? What’s next?”
Cavacas said the board would “move forward from here unless further motions come up.”
Humphrey followed up several times. “So there’s no question — the board is in agreement that the mascot of Rutland Public Schools is now the Ravens?” she said.
“I don’t believe the board is in agreement, ma’am,” Cavacas replied. “I cannot prevent a future motion coming up in the next year or two, or whatever, just like his motion came up. I can’t guarantee any of that to you, as chair. But as of right now, I can tell you that the mascot is the Ravens, yes.”
Board member Ann Dages then made a motion to accept the report from the attorney and its findings. Alison Notte, who chaired the board when it voted to abandon the former mascot and adopt the Raven mascot, asked to amend the motion to specifically state that the board would “move forward as the Rutland Ravens.”
Cavacas and Notte briefly clashed about whether to include the clause. Notte argued that language in the agenda and the attorney’s findings said that the Ravens mascot stands and that she could include it in her motion.
“It stands as of today,” he said, then added, “It might not in a month, but as of today, it does.”
The motion, as amended, passed 5-4. Some of the meetings’ attendees applauded.
During additional comments, resident Marisa Kiefaber said the school and its students have been “in limbo” with the mascot, which adds to existing uncertainty that revolves around the pandemic.
“It’s been almost a year since we removed the Raiders, and since we have not had a current mascot or name,” she said, asking for “next actionable steps.”
Mia Schultz, president of the Rutland Area NAACP, also asked the board to develop a timeline for the change.
After continued discussion, board member Erin Shimp said the board could “fight and bicker about a name all day long,” but that she would rather take “our focus to education, to helping students.”
“It’s not just a name,” Schultz said, responding to Shimp as she continued. “It’s racist. You need to focus on your racism. This is part of education.”
The board then began discussing a motion to form a committee that would develop a timeline for the mascot transition, at which point Shimp exited the room.
With the remaining board members, the motion to form a committee passed unanimously.