Letters to the editor: May 4, 2023

S.100 degrades our involvement in planning

To the Editor:

Under current state statute, rural communities like Charlotte can require the town to vote on changes to zoning bylaws (our land-use regulations) during regular elections or special meetings. Charlotte currently does this. That is why our ballots on Town Meeting Day include articles to approve changes to bylaws.

S.100 is now in review by state House committees. In its latest version, the bill would remove the ability of Charlotte and all rural towns to require a town vote on changes to zoning bylaws. Instead, S.100 would put the decision to require a vote in the hands of the Selectboard, who could approve changes without a town vote at all should they wish to – a dramatic departure from our current process.

One of the things that makes Vermont special is our level of public engagement in the decisions that affect our communities and how they develop. That engagement fosters a strong sense of town stewardship and ownership among residents. It provides a crucial way for us to democratically review, analyze and vote on planning decisions made by appointed boards.

These changes to state statute in S.100 pose a real and significant harm to the vitality of our local efforts to grow as a community. As a town and a state, we should be working to involve more folks, not fewer, in the process of determining our collective futures.

At the time of writing, these changes to S.100 are close to being finalized, but there is still a window to ask lawmakers to reverse them. Please reach out to our representatives in the state House and Senate and tell them how much you value having input in the direction of our town and to leave the procedure for adopting bylaws as-is.

Mathew Citarella

Students need to be included in harassment protections

To the Editor:

We are the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network, a statewide group of students working to promote anti-racism in our schools and communities. We believe that by starting by fostering anti-racism with the youngest members of society — students — we can build a better society as a whole.

We are writing about S.103, an act relating to amending the prohibitions against discrimination. This bill would lower the standards necessary to pursue a harassment claim, which would be beneficial to all Vermonters. According to the Human Rights Commission, only one out of 200 harassment cases actually make it to be heard. This bill would work to address this inequity, while also extending the harassment protections to students.

The section of this bill, that is especially applicable to students, is the part that would implement these harassment standards in our schools. Students across the state and in our schools face racism, ableism, sexism and other inequalities daily throughout their educational journey. We are already fighting for our right to safe education; we shouldn’t have to fight to have our harassment complaints heard. We believe that the provision which would include students under the harassment protections is an extremely vital part of this bill and needs to be included in order for it to pass.

Imagine this: A teacher and a student both experience harassment from their principal. Under the current harassment standards, only the teacher would be able to file a claim on this. The student would not be able to.

We believe this is an injustice.

An argument voiced by legislators and others is that education officials and schools do not have the capacity to deal with the harassment complaints being heard. We understand the many demands that are put on educators and staff members by their schools, but allowing students to pursue harassment claims is vital to our mental and physical health. If schools are for students, then they are worth our safety.

The Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network is passionate about building inclusive and just school systems that are centered on student well-being and safety. We believe that the S.103 bill would accomplish this goal. There is no harm to ensuring that we, as students, feel protected in our schools where we spend roughly 35 hours per week. Our question to you is: Why wouldn’t we want to prioritize the safety of the next generation across our state?

We hope legislators and advocates will hear our request for S.103 to be passed with the student section.

If you want to learn more and write to the House Education Committee with your thoughts.

We appreciate all the work of Vermonters on this issue and hope that we can see positive change come out of it.

Hudson Ranney
(Submitted on behalf of the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network.)