Protect the Victim
I am deeply disappointed in Seven Days' decision to publish identifying details about the sexual abuse of a Vermont youth by teacher Matthew Toof [Off Message: "Vermont Teacher Groomed Student From Age 11, Raped Her, Affidavit Says," December 11]. Although you did not publish her name, you may as well have. You shared enough identifying information that it wouldn't be very difficult for anyone living in her community to figure out who she is. And if that weren't enough, you chose to share incredibly personal and graphic details about the crime against her, as well as share the actual words she used in describing the crime and her attempts to stop it.
Perhaps your intention was to draw attention to this horrific (but not unfamiliar) crime in an attempt to inform the public and express moral outrage. Unfortunately, the impact of your intention was actually one of doing more harm.
First, she was repeatedly violated by this man, then utterly failed by her community for not intervening more effectively and, finally, re-violated by Seven Days.
I implore you to courageously and thoughtfully consider the impact of this article and to reconsider how you publish these types of stories in the future.
Editor's note: Post-publication, we removed several details about the case. We apologize for the initial oversight.
Errors and Omissions
My late wife and I owned the Hardwick Gazette from 1986 to 2017. I have no ongoing financial involvement with the newspaper.
In [Off Message: "Media Note: Amid Money Woes, Hardwick Gazette to Sell Its Building," December 7], your reporter wrote that Hardwick has about 1,000 people. Hardwick's population is pushing 3,000.
The reporter said the newspaper's building housed, among other antiques, a Linotype machine. Wrong. There is a Monotype machine. They are different.
Seventeen people were referenced on the newspaper's masthead. Yet one died in 2015. I have rarely seen some of these names on stories recently.
The article reported that the Gazette lost legal advertising when it went to online-only publication. Municipal ads were in all issues in November and December, including a legal warning for a charter change vote.
Your reporter referred to an essay contest I held to find a new owner as a "gimmick." A Merriam-Webster definition: "a mechanical device for secretly and dishonestly controlling gambling apparatus."
A gimmick? Really?
There was nothing secret or dishonest about the essay contest. There were rules, spelled out in ongoing consultation with an attorney; an entry fee; a panel of qualified judges to assess entries; and start and end dates. Entry fees were returned when the required minimum entries under the rules weren't received.
Had I been interviewed, the reporter could have learned of other essay contests used to transition businesses.
Newspapers' survivability is a complex issue far deeper than vacating a historic building, as sad as that is. An exploration is in order, rather than shining a weak spotlight on one of Vermont's oldest weekly publications.
No Room for Bullies
My name is Holmes Jacobs, and I am one of the owners of Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury. Your article regarding a new culture of incredibly rude behavior rings all too true ["Red Hen Baking Confronts an 'Epidemic of Rudeness,'" December 7]. I don't know how we got here, but it's ugly.
[Re Off Message: "Burlington School Principals, HR Director on Leave Amid Investigations," December 2]. I am an educator with the Burlington School District and a colleague of the three individuals discussed. In addition, I am a close friend of Herb Perez. I would like to share just some of the many questions the piece raised for me, in the hope that there will be additional reporting.
The article stated that Herb was placed on leave after he "allegedly restrained a student inappropriately." What was the student doing that required Herb to make the choice to restrain them? For an educator, restraints are used if a student is posing a risk to themselves or others. How does the district work to provide that understanding to families and support staff with effective training to ensure that all parties are protected?
Later in the article, it was reported that "the district will use restorative practices ... 'to process this complex and challenging situation with adults and then students.'" How does the district plan to restore the faith and trust of the family involved and restore the dignity and belief of the individuals targeted in the article? The colleagues discussed have dedicated many years of service to our district. How will we be able to restore their standing and trust in us?
In exploring these questions, the stories of the promise and challenge of public education today can be told more completely.
[Re "Oh, Goddard: The Beleaguered College Reckons With Its Latest President," December 1]: My experience with the Goddard College board of directors dates back to 1981, about eight months before I, and many of Goddard's students and staff from the Adult Degree Program, Goddard Experimental Program in Further Education, the MFA in Writing and the Graduate Program, were "sold" to Norwich University.
Goddard was in very bad financial shape before that deal was made, and, as the new and first director of development in Goddard's history, I discovered more than $100,000 in unpaid student tuition, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in uncollected alumni pledges. I immediately proposed that we gather as many volunteers as possible at the Haybarn offices, as well as people at home, to call all those who owed money.
This was taken to the board, which denied permission for the effort. The word that came back to me from the board's deliberations was that it would be "unseemly" to have random phone calls going out to people and harassing them. I was also a 1980 graduate of Goddard's Adult Degree Program and was, to say the least, stumped by this denial.
[Re "Oh, Goddard: The Beleaguered College Reckons With Its Latest President," December 1]: When I was working as a journalist, objectivity was utmost in my mind. It seems Seven Days reporter Chelsea Edgar did not get that memo.
The article about Goddard is so lopsided, I had to diligently search for legit information about the alumni student side of the issue. President Dan Hocoy and the current administration's side of things was front and center. They are serious about the issues.
On the other hand, the alumni student points of view were glossed over and mocked. Students were represented as naïve and silly for wanting to maintain the integrity of the Goddard tradition.
And including the opinion of Tom Greene, founding president of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, about the matter is akin to asking No. 45 how he thinks the Biden presidency is going.
I attended both VCFA and Goddard. The experiences were starkly different. There was never any doubt that VCFA was a business first. Goddard always put students first.
The title of the article, "Oh, Goddard," is particularly apt — a foreshadowing of the overall tone. All that is missing is an image of someone with the back of their hand over their forehead, suggesting: Oy, vey, here go those ridiculous Goddard students again.
Make Memorial Senior Housing
I very much appreciate the retrospective on Memorial Auditorium ["Memorial Days," December 1]. Among my memories are the band Chicago Transit Authority, later known simply as Chicago; Saint Michael's College basketball player Ralph Coleman smashing a glass backboard with a dunk in warm-ups, forcing a postponement to the next day at the Rice Memorial High School gym; selling programs for a 5th Dimension concert; and annual boat shows. As cherished as the memories are, I think that the auditorium's viable days are over. I would be open to Memorial Senior Housing.
[Re "Weighing the Options," November 17]: When Winooski superintendent Sean McMannon says that "We've been doing this work for decades, and we've developed programs; we've cultivated staff and trust in the community," he does so without being able to point to concrete outcomes for the majority of the Winooski student body. Look at the "Winooski School District Integrated Field Review Report" on the Vermont Agency of Education's website. The Winooski School District has been on a continuous improvement plan for quite some time, and, still, teachers continue to be lacking clarity in how data is explicitly used to determine continuous improvement needs.
Time's up, WSD. You absolutely cannot be trusted to spend more money.
Letters and articles in recent weeks talk about a lack of housing in Vermont, as well as a lack of medical care resources and a lack of good jobs. Increased traffic congestion and deadly violence are sources of concern, as are rising taxes to pay for the increased demands on social welfare programs. Yet government officials, among others, call for more people to move to Vermont and suggest paying them to do so. We are moving every day toward the ills we bemoan in Los Angeles; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; etc.
[Re "Lifting Spirits," November 17]: Good article, though there's no mention of who's picking up the tab for recovery for the drinkers who become alcoholics. Addiction is kind of like the elephant in the middle of the living room. Kind of shortsighted on the distillers' part, too.
[Re Off Message: "Volunteer Group Finds PFAS in Water Samples From Winooski River," November 30] I read with interest and worry the article reporting that dairy farmer John Belter filed a suit in September 2021 against Burlington over his well water contamination with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, aka PFAS. Contamination was present despite the fact that PFAS usage for firefighting purposes by the Vermont Air National Guard stopped in 2015.
Since then, the implementation of various decontamination strategies in the area, such as the installation of filtration systems, provided drinking water. However, we learn from your article that the groundwater is still highly contaminated after six years. You reported that the PFAS concentration in Belter's well in June 2021 was 13 times higher than the Vermont legal standard and that the creek's level was 31 times higher. It is actually rather surprising that the suit was filed only recently, as the contamination was revealed in 2017.
This is another reminder of the need for swift action and preventive legal measures against the usage of many dangerous substances, including PFAS, which have been demonstrably shown to be toxic and hard to eliminate once released in the environment. Unfortunately, in Vermont, S.20 — a law banning the use of a series of products containing PFAS, including Class B firefighting foam utilized by the Vermont Air National Guard — will only take effect in July 2022. We now know that banning these substances will not solve the consequences of existing contaminations.
We should not be waiting for environmental degradation and for people to get seriously ill to prohibit these chemicals.
Thanks to Alison Novak for "Level Best?" [November 24]. It provided much new information about the decision to build a new Burlington High School.
When I first heard about the old school being closed due to PCB contamination, a plethora of ills flashed through my mind: the asbestos ceiling at my elementary school; the lead in the paint from China; the lead in the water in Flint, Mich.; the dust in the Kentucky and West Virginia coal mines. As if the PCB issue weren't enough for children to have to deal with, there's COVID-19. So, closing the school was for me a no-brainer.
Now I can put all that in perspective. I was particularly struck by the information that 15 nanograms per cubic meter is close to the PCB concentration that we typically breathe indoors.
Also, I have come to understand the dilemma of physical versus mental health, especially when it comes to certain children: the homeless; the institutionalized; the victims of various types of abuse; those drug-addicted from birth; the ones lacking stability because their parents have had too many mates; the ones lacking stability because the only guardian they have left is working extremely long hours; the LGBTQ students in the process of defining themselves.
All of them are children for whom a hug from their best friend or unconditionally loving favorite teacher has meant everything and is the only thing that has kept them on track to being academically successful.
James Robert Saunders
Love Your Mail
Thank you for the article on the woes of the U.S. postal system ["Delivery Debacles," December 1]. From 2015 to 2019, I was the concierge at a Vermont residential retirement community. The young, upbeat women who delivered the mail were always hustling to get through their own route and usually someone else's. I learned about their working conditions: switched routes, added routes when short-staffed, overtime, denied requests for earned time off, and inconsistent hours. I don't think we can appreciate how demanding it is to deliver mail.
My daughter lives in a residential part of Istanbul, Turkey, where I can send letters that arrive in two weeks — or never. I can't send packages. Mail is not delivered to homes through a national system; there are private couriers.
I don't think that Americans realize how spoiled we are with the U.S. Postal Service, which is underfunded, short-staffed and swamped with our internet orders. We can do more than complain. Before it is too late, we can demand that Congress undergird this national treasure. How much do you want to bet that Amazon will buy out the postal system? Then let's watch to see how much it costs to mail things and where the mail ends up.