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Abenaki Place Names To Be Included On Signs At Vt. State Parks And Five Other Key Stories

Pumpkins on the vine in a field
Nina Keck
Pumpkins were ready to harvest this week at Winslow's Farm in Pittsford.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about coronavirus, Vermont's new tax-and-regulate system for commercial cannabis and more for Monday, Oct. 12.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Eight members of the Vt. Air National Guard test positive for COVID-19

No additional cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed within the Vermont Air National Guard, after eight members tested positive last week.

The Vermont Department of Health says it is working to identify the contacts of the eight guard members who tested positive. The guard has also been following up with anyone who was in contact with those members on the job, and is reviewing its safety protocols to minimize the potential for further spread of the disease.

The positive cases grounded the guard's F-35 training flights for two days last week. But at least one flight is expected later this week: the twentieth and final F-35 fighter jet in the guard's fleet is scheduled to arrive at the South Burlington air base on Wednesday. In a statement, the guard said it expects to be able to deploy using the aircraft by the end of the year.

Additionally, two COVID-19 cases were reported in Chittenden County schools over the weekend: one in Williston Central School and another in South Burlington High School.

VTDigger reports that both schools, which are doing a hybrid mix of learning will remain open for in-person instruction. Officials say contact tracing is underway for Williston Central, and has been completed for South Burlington High.

Williston Central serves about 600 students, grades three through eight. School officials have not said if the positive case was a student or a staff member.

South Burlington High School serves about 900 students. School officials there confirmed the positive case was a student.

Statewide, nine new cases of COVID-19 were announced on Monday, with Washington County seeing the biggest increase in cases, at four. Two cases were identified in Windsor County, one in Windham County, one in Chittenden County and one in Orange County.

So far, 1,876 people have tested positive for the disease in Vermont, and 173,715 people have been tested for active cases. As of today, 54 people were being monitored as close contacts of confirmed cases.

- Henry Epp and Abagael Giles

2. Governor signs into law addition of Abenaki Place names to signs at state parks

Just in time for Vermont’s observation Monday of Indigenous People’s Day, Gov. Scott has signed into law a proposal to add Abenaki place names to signs in state parks.

By March, the state’s Commission on Native American Affairs will come up with a list of places and landmarks that have Abenaki names. Those names will then be included along with English names in state parks.

Don Stevens is chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation.

“It's equity. Because we both live here; both Europeans and native people live on the same land now. And just having both names on the sign gives you that equality,” Stevens said.

Stevens sees many signs of progress in the last year, from the restoration of hunting and fishing rights, to the revival of the Abenaki language.

- Betty Smith

More from VPR: Local Chef On Indigenous Food Sovereignty Movement And A Moose Hunt In Maine

3. State to allow school board members to become substitute teachers

School board members in some districts around Vermont are receiving state approval to become substitute teachers, as districts anticipate a shortfall of fill-in instructors in the coming months.

Education Secretary Dan French said school board members are typically not allowed to be district employees, but they can request a state waiver to be substitute teachers.

French said the agency has seen an uptick in those requests.

"So we've been expediting those waiver requests, so we've had a lot of school board members step up and volunteer, or be interested in being subs," he said.

French said an overall lack of substitute teachers was an issue prior to the pandemic.

- Henry Epp

4. Wildfire burns on Arrowhead Mountain in Milton

A wildland fire burned about 4 acres in Milton over the weekend.

The Milton Fire Department first responded to the fire on Arrowhead Mountain on Saturday. It was mostly extinguished by Sunday night, though the fire department says there will still be some smoke as hot spots die down.

The fire department said rough terrain made the fire difficult to access and several residents lent their ATVs.

The department said the blaze was likely caused by a lightning strike. Abnormally dry conditions this year have contributed to a higher risk of wildfire in the northeast. And according to the US drought monitor, Vermont experienced the most intense period of drought in 20 years at the end of September.

- Anna Van Dine

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: Climate Change And Forest Fires In The Northeast

5. Leahy chastises Republicans for beginning SCOTUS confirmation hearings Monday

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy chastised Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for beginning Monday the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shortly after Ginsburg's death last month.

Leahy, in his opening remarks Monday, said the Judiciary Committee was moving too fast — and not taking proper precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Two members of this committee are just now emerging from quarantine, after testing positive for COVID," Leahy said. "Other members have declined to get tested at all. And yet, the Chairman has refused to implement a daily testing regime to keep members, staff and Judge Barrett and her family safe."

Leahy, who is 80, is attending the four-day confirmation hearing remotely.

- Liam Elder-Connors

6. Critics of cannabis law passed last week call for amendments

A commercial tax-and-regulate system for marijuana sales became law last week, but many critics, including the governor, are calling for amendments to the new law.

Mark Hughes is the coordinator for the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, which has been campaigning against the legislation. He told Vermont Edition the law needs to address the racial and economic inequities within the cannabis industry.

"In this industry, if you don't have land and you don't have capital, you lose," Hughes said. He said that BIPOC and especially Black communities as well as smaller businesses will be disproportionately impacted by the cannabis market as it is established in the new law.

More from Vermont Edition: What You Need To Know About Vermont's New Tax-And-Regulate System For Cannabis

- Emily Aiken

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