WESTMINSTER — Voters in the Windham Northeast Union Elementary School District (WNEUESD) towns of Athens, Grafton and Westminster were warned to meet at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, at the Bellows Falls Union High School, to vote on a school budget and elect school board members.
But given current conditions, the WNEUESD Board has determined that holding that meeting and getting anything done is no longer an option.
“At the time we warned the meeting, the Coronavirus outbreak was a localized epidemic in Wuhan, China,” wrote Board Chair Jack Bryar in a March 25 letter to The Commons. “Today, it is a global pandemic.”
Bryar wrote that, given the increasing rate of cases in Vermont, “by early April, it is a near certainty that COVID-19 will reach into even our smallest communities. The Governor has announced emergency restrictions that make conducting a community meeting almost impossible. And, frankly, trying to hold a meeting under these conditions would be a terrible idea in any case.”
“We have a quandary,” Bryar continued. “How can we have a meeting we are legally obligated to conduct when we can't (and shouldn't!) have such a meeting?”
After consultation with the Vermont Secretary of State's Office, Bryar wrote that “it has been recommended that we conduct a brief meeting for the sole purpose of postponing that meeting. In order to accommodate state law, there will be a place for people to assemble, either outside or just inside the high school building. We anticipate that most board members and our moderator, etc. participate online. However, there will be someone at the school to accommodate those community members who wish to attend in person.”
Bryar said that, “in compliance with the Governor's State of Emergency and plain common sense we recommend that members of the public not show up. This is especially true if you have had any symptoms of a cold or fever, or been in contact with anyone with such symptoms. If you choose to attend anyway, we will ask you to maintain a safe 6-to-10-foot distance from your neighbor.”
The board would then entertain a motion to postpone the meeting to a date certain, probably three weeks later, Bryar wrote. “If you choose to attend, please support such a motion. If the epidemic has not peaked by the new date, we would hold another identical meeting, again hopefully with no one in attendance, and ask for a second delay.”
Bryar wrote that Will Senning, who heads the Secretary of State's Elections office, says his office expects the Legislature to modify state law in the interim, which would allow the board to convert the district meeting into a series of Australian ballot measures. This would allow voters to vote the proposed budget, up or down, and to elect board members.
At this time, however, Bryar wrote that “it is not clear to us whether “in person” voting would be required or if the Legislature will allow residents to vote by mail.”