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Keene resident accused of stabbing man 'numerous times'

Volante

A Keene resident was arrested Tuesday night, accused of stabbing a man “numerous times” with a knife, according to police.

Caryzma Volante, 29, of Marlboro Street, has been charged with first-degree assault in connection with the incident, Keene police said in a news release early Wednesday morning.

Eric Eaton, 28, suffered multiple stab wounds to his upper back and legs, according to the release. Lt. Benjamin Nugent said he does not believe the injuries are life-threatening.

Police responded to 52 Marlboro St. shortly before 9:30 p.m. for a report of a stabbing and found Eaton injured, the release says.

Volante was arrested at the scene, held without bail at the Cheshire County jail and is slated to have a hearing in Cheshire County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon, the release says.

Volante and Eaton are neighbors and acquaintances, and the assault occurred shortly after Volante had gone to see Eaton, Lt. Steven Tenney said Wednesday morning. The investigation remains ongoing, he said.

Police ask anyone with additional information to call the Keene Police Department at 357-9820 and ask to speak with Detective Donald Lundin. People can also give information anonymously by email at https://ci.keene.nh.us/police/crime-tips.


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NH issues school reopening guidelines, with focus on flexibility

Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday unveiled the state’s guidelines for reopening public schools in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while emphasizing that local districts will make their own decisions on how to return to class.

The state won’t require students and staff to wear masks in the classroom, for instance, but face coverings are highly encouraged when social distancing can’t be maintained, in places like hallways and on school buses. However, the state will mandate that all school visitors, including parents dropping off children, wear masks while on school property.

Overall, the 54-page document does not present a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather offers school districts throughout the state the flexibility to craft their own reopening plans, Sununu said.

“By providing the guidelines, but allowing the teachers and administrators to manage, what we’ve really tried to do is make sure we didn’t create something so rigid it was doomed to fail, so rigid it would be brittle,” he said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Sununu added that he feels confident all students and staff can return to school safely in September, but that districts should still plan for a hybrid model that includes both in-person and remote instruction, based on local needs.

This past school year, in March, Sununu ordered schools to close and transition to remote learning due to concern over COVID-19. He later extended that order through the end of the academic year.

The state guidance calls for school districts to develop hybrid instruction plans for students and staff who have underlying health concerns and can’t return to school, or if a spike in coronavirus cases forces schools to reduce in-person class sizes or transition fully to remote learning again.

“We just don’t know what this is going to look like, but we wanted to create a system that allowed that flexibility ... so the districts and the principals and the teachers could design the model that would work best for their students,” Sununu said.

In order to navigate all of these potential scenarios, the state also advises school districts to develop a comprehensive communication plan to share the most up-to-date information with students, families and staff members.

“When you have that transparency, and you have that back-and-forth communication between parents, teachers and students and folks that are managing those facilities, again, I really do believe it’s a pillar of success not just for getting kids back in September, but maintaining school operations for the long term,” Sununu said.

While Sununu touted the guidance’s flexibility, the plan drew criticism from some Democrats in the Legislature.

“Today Governor Sununu failed the students and hard-working staff at New Hampshire schools,” Rep. Mel Myler, D-Hopkinton, who chairs the House Education Committee, said in a written statement. “Let me be clear — flexibility is not a plan. New Hampshire has always prided itself on local control at the school level but during a pandemic, as the governor demonstrated when he closed schools in March, the state must lead.”

Specifically, Myler criticized Sununu for not mandating masks for everyone in schools.

In response to a question about this criticism during Tuesday’s news conference, Sununu said New Hampshire’s guidelines are based on the recommendations of a statewide task force that received input from nearly 56,000 parents and school officials.

“If folks are out there saying that we’re failing schools because we don’t mandate masks, I would say that those individuals are failing to listen to the stakeholders, to the parents, to the teachers, to the administrators,” he said. “They were the ones that were all part of the stakeholder process that effectively wrote this document.”

The state also recommends that districts develop a robust daily screening process for staff, students and visitors, and arrange classrooms to minimize close contact between students, ideally keeping desks at least 3 feet apart.

The full school reopening guidance can be read at covidguidance.nh.gov.

Local planning continues

Throughout the Monadnock Region, districts are in the process of seeking feedback from their communities and crafting plans for a potential mix of in-person and remote classes in the fall.

In the Monadnock Regional School District, which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy, district leaders are seeking input on reopening from parents, guardians and students via an online survey, which had garnered 620 responses as of Monday.

Monadnock is planning for three scenarios next year: returning to in-person instruction, remaining with remote learning or a hybrid of the two, Superintendent Lisa Witte wrote Monday in a letter on the district website.

Monadnock’s School Reopening Planning Team intends to draft an initial reopening plan by July 23 and publicly share a final plan a week after that, Witte wrote. The Monadnock Regional School Board will review the reopening plan at its Aug. 4 meeting.

N.H. School Administrative Unit 29, which consists of Keene and six nearby towns, released a draft reopening framework last week. The 19-page document, posted on the SAU 29 website, lays out possible strategies for schools to address issues ranging from social distancing and personal protective equipment requirements to extracurricular activities and transportation to and from school.

SAU 29 leaders sought feedback on the plan through a survey, which closed Monday morning, and are taking this week to analyze the feedback and prepare a final framework next week.

“There was a lot of valuable input that was shared, and there are a lot of factors that will need to be considered as they will vary from building to building,” SAU 29 Superintendent Robert Malay wrote Monday in a message on the unit’s website. “... Some of the input will be used to finalize the framework and some will be used as key decisions are made on what the opening will look like specifically.”

Schools in the Keene, Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland districts will use the final SAU 29 framework to create school-specific reopening plans. Those plans will continue to evolve throughout the summer, subject to the latest public health information and government guidance, according to Malay.

Meanwhile, the ConVal Regional School District is also planning for a mix of in-person and online classes next school year, according to a letter posted last week on the school board website.

The plan for the district, which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple, is still in development, and will be updated based on the latest epidemiological data available, according to the letter.

The Fall Mountain Regional School District’s COVID-19 Response Team, made up of administrators, department directors and school nurses, is working on a plan for that district, which covers Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Langdon and Walpole.

The district is conducting a parent survey on reopening and planning for a hybrid model of in-school and online instruction, Superintendent Lori Landry wrote last week in a letter to Fall Mountain families.

The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District has formed an ad hoc committee of administrators, staff, parents and other community members to develop a reopening plan, which the group hopes to finalize by the end of the month. The district will send a reopening survey to staff and parents, guardians and students, on Thursday, Superintendent Reuben Duncan wrote on the district’s website Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Hinsdale School District has already completed a parent survey, and a reopening steering committee will submit recommendations to the school board at its meeting next Wednesday, Superintendent Wayne Woolridge said.

The district plans to share a reopening plan with families in early August, he added.


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Stoddard
Stoddard selectman challenges recount that ousted him by a vote

STODDARD — A selectman who narrowly won re-election in June only to narrowly lose his seat in a recount earlier this month is suing the town, claiming some of the ballots that were reviewed as part of the recount were fraudulent.

Charles Fosberry said by phone Tuesday that he doesn’t want a new election, but instead wants to have the recount that took place on July 3 voided, and the vote tally from the June 23 election upheld.

By that count, Fosberry received 108 votes to the 107 cast for challenger Stephen J. McGerty. The race was the only contested one on the ballot.

Fosberry was elected to the Stoddard Board of Selectmen in 2017, beating out fellow residents Douglas Summerton and Fred Ward. The seat had previously been held by McGerty, who didn’t seek re-election that year.

Following the June 23 vote, McGerty properly requested a recount, Fosberry said. It’s the events that ensued that have him concerned, Fosberry explained. They include Town Clerk Karen C. Bell publicly admitting she opened the box containing the ballots days before the recount. He also alleges McGerty’s wife, Deborah, who is the deputy town clerk and tax collector, had access to the box before it was resealed.

Ultimately, the recount reversed the race’s outcome, but a one-vote difference between the candidates remained. However, the lawsuit filed July 8 in Cheshire County Superior Court says the total number of ballots counted June 23, which was 215, had increased by four to 219. McGerty’s vote count increased by three to 110 and Fosberry’s by one to 109, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, filed by Keene attorney Joseph S. Hoppock, highlights the handling of the ballots following the election as reason to question the validity of the recount. It refers to a statement the lawsuit says Bell, who is also the town tax collector, read at the beginning of the recount process on July 3, admitting that on June 30, she opened the box of ballots she had sealed after the election.

The lawsuit also says the recount was originally scheduled for June 30, but Town Moderator Daniel A. Eaton canceled it because the candidates hadn’t been notified at least three days before the recount as required by state law, and because Fosberry had incorrectly been told he couldn’t attend.

Attempts to reach Eaton by phone weren’t successful.

According to a written statement that was emailed to selectmen Chairman Christopher Madden, Selectman Robert Fee and Eaton as a memorandum dated July 2 — which Fosberry forwarded to The Sentinel — Bell said that immediately following the July 23 election, she collected all election documents and placed them in a box, sealing the box with red election tape. Items in the box included cast and uncast ballots, ballot-counting machine tape with results of the election and signatures from herself, Eaton, the assistant moderator and selectmen and the voter checklist, she said. She then took the box and other election supplies home, left them in her locked car, and brought them to town hall in the morning, she said.

Bell said she put the box of ballots in a storage closet at town hall, where the box remained until June 30 at 9:30 a.m. That morning, she took the box to her office and opened it, as she’d realized she had accidentally put inside the box absentee ballot request forms, information she needed to enter into ElectioNet and some notes she had taken the day of the election, she said.

ElectioNet is an online system through which cities and towns can submit election results to the state.

Deborah McGerty arrived a few minutes after Bell said she’d opened the box, and asked her if it contained ballots. Bell said she confirmed the box did, and Deborah McGerty told her the box should have remained sealed. Bell, who was elected town clerk in May 2019 after serving as deputy, said she referred to her state election law book, and realized she’d made a mistake.

The office was exceptionally busy that day, as it had been for two weeks, according to Bell. She said she closed the box and it remained next to her the remainder of the day because she wasn’t able to leave her desk until the end of it. Bell wrote that Deborah McGerty went home after they closed the office, and Bell taped the box back up with red tape and returned it to the locked closet. She noted that she and Deborah McGerty were together all day, and at no point was McGerty alone with the box.

Bell said she notified the N.H. Secretary of State’s Office, the N.H. Municipal Association, Eaton and selectmen of her mistake. Attorney Stephen C. Buckley of the municipal association and Attorney Bud Fitch of the election department at the Secretary of State’s Office advised her to write an affidavit about what had happened and distribute it to the selectmen and Eaton as soon as possible and read it publicly at the recount session, Bell said.

In addition, Bell noted that besides herself, Deborah McGerty and Assistant Town Clerk Patricia Marotta have keys to the town clerk’s office and storage closet where the sealed box of ballots was kept. To the best of her knowledge, no one else had access to the box, Bell said.

Both Bell and Deborah McGerty said by phone Tuesday they had no comment about the lawsuit.

Stephen McGerty declined to comment Wednesday morning.

The lawsuit explains that while Fosberry acknowledges per case law “that failure to follow technical requirements will not defeat the legally expressed will of the voters,” an election must be invalidated when irregularities “are substantive in nature and involve a material breach of ballots.”

Fosberry said Tuesday he remains a Stoddard selectman and continues to participate in the board’s meetings.


Wapo
White House signals openness to unemployment compromise

WASHINGTON — Senior Trump administration officials have begun signaling their willingness to approve a narrow extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits helping tens of millions of jobless Americans hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

In less than two weeks, the federal program that provides a $600-per-week increase to unemployment benefits will expire. Many economists warn the disappearance of this enormous federal stimulus, created in March, could hinder the economic recovery and deprive millions of Americans of a vital financial lifeline.

More than 30 million people are collecting what many recipients say is a crucial pillar of financial support right now.

“We’d basically have to choose between paying bills and eating,” Erin Walker, 48, said about the looming expiration of the benefits. “I honestly don’t know what I would do.” Walker was furloughed from her job as a dining manager at a college campus near Summerville, S.C. at the end of April.

For months, President Donald Trump and White House officials have argued the $600-per-week unemployment bonus provides a disincentive to work and should be scrapped so that more Americans return to work as part of the economic recovery. But with the benefits soon set to expire and the economy showing new signs of strain, Trump administration officials have begun opening the door to accepting a narrower version of what Congress previously approved.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC last week that the administration’s priority was ensuring that future benefits amount to “no more” than 100 percent of a worker’s prior wages. Mnuchin’s comments surprised some congressional Republicans who thought he shared their strong opposition to extending the benefits, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal dynamics.

Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, told Fox Business on Monday that the administration is seeking “some unemployment reforms.” Kudlow had in previous weeks more aggressively bashed the $600-per-week increase.

Kudlow also pushed a “return to work” bonus that could supplement a reduction in unemployment benefits. That idea has been viewed as administratively difficult to implement, and its path to passage is unclear, according to three lobbyists and congressional aides aware of internal conversations.

One potential compromise discussed by Republican lawmakers would involve cutting the unemployment benefit from $600 per week to between $200 and $400 per week and making up at least part of the difference by sending another round of $1,200 stimulus payments, these people said.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the administration is opposed to the $600-per-week increase but would not rule out the administration’s agreeing to a more limited expansion of the benefit. Maintaining unemployment insurance benefits at current levels “does not incentivize returning to work,” Deere said in an email. “UI reform is a priority for this White House in any phase four package and we are in ongoing discussions with the Hill.”

The emergency, temporary federal benefits come on top of the payments appropriated by state governments, though those benefits vary. Democrats have largely called for the benefits to be extended.

Lawmakers will have little time to resolve the competing positions. Republicans have discussed the issue internally but have not reached a caucus position on the matter. There are no serious bipartisan discussions underway to resolve the impasse. The Senate comes back in session on July 20, five days before the enhanced unemployment benefit expires in 49 states. They expire in New York state on July 26.

“They don’t have time, which is what is very scary about all this,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Republican staff director for the Senate Budget Committee. “It’s very irresponsible.”

Trump has offered little clarity on his preferred outcome, saying on Fox Business last month about the benefits: “We had something where they wanted where it gave you a disincentive to work last time. And it was still money going to people and helping people, so I was all for that. But we want to create a very great incentive to work. So we’re working on that, and I’m sure we’ll all come together.”

Compounding the potential for economic disaster is that the labor market shows continued signs of severe stress.

More than one million Americans continue to apply for jobless benefits every week, and the rise of coronavirus cases across the country threatens to prompt a new wave of shutdowns. There are still 1.6 million fewer job openings than there were in February — although they rose slightly in May — raising the question of whether many Americans have a job to return to.

June’s jobs numbers showed the United States has recovered about a third of the jobs it lost during the worst of the coronavirus crisis. But the economy appears to have worsened in the weeks since, and there are few signs it will improve before expanded unemployment benefits expire. From March through June, the United States saw a steady decrease in the share of households that expected their income to fall within the next month — from 39 percent to 31 percent, a weekly census survey showed. But by the end of the June, 34 percent of Americans — more than one in three — reported that they expected to see their income fall in the coming month.

The unemployment benefits helped stabilize the economic turbulence as the unemployment rate rose to roughly 15 percent in April before falling slightly to 11 percent in June. Americans made $70 billion less in wages and salaries in May compared with February, reflecting lost jobs and cuts to hours and wages. Emergency unemployment benefits filled that gap, funneling $70 billion per month into the economy, according to Ernie Tedeschi, who worked as an economist in the Obama administration’s Treasury Department.

Removing that lifeline could spell hardship for millions of Americans. More than 30 million Americans would see an income cut of between 50 percent and 75 percent if the benefits go away, Tedeschi said.

Adding further danger to the expiring benefits is the simultaneous expiration of eviction moratoriums in many parts of the country. About 26 percent of Americans have missed a rent or mortgage check or expect to miss the next one — the highest figure reported since the Census Bureau began keeping track in late April. In hard-hit Houston and Miami, more than 40 percent of households now struggle to pay the rent or mortgage.

In another weekly survey, this one sent to small businesses, the bureau found that the share of businesses that have cut employees in the past seven days has risen for two straight weeks, and as with the other trends, this worrying rise came after months of steady improvement. The rise in job cuts was sharpest in low-wage service industries that are most exposed to the resurgent pandemic.

In late June, more businesses also reported that they expect the economy will not recover for at least six months. By the end of the month, 53 percent of U.S. small businesses reported that the economy would take longer than six months to recover. Amid the gloomy outlook, investment bank Goldman Sachs lowered its estimate for the economy’s third-quarter recovery and predicted the economy would shrink more in 2020 than it had previously estimated.

Many workers are left in a state of unparalleled uncertainty. Walker, the former dining manager, said that supplemental insurance was all that was keeping her rent and expenses paid. She and her partner, who also lost his job recently, pay about $2,400 a month for rent, cellphones, a car payment and utilities — a sum that is going to be hard to match on the $260 week he would make, after taxes, on South Carolina’s unemployment benefits alone.

“That’s not including groceries,” she said. “There’s absolutely no way to make that math work.”

Walker said she found it hard even to think about the choices she would have to make if the benefits were allowed to expire should she remain on furlough.

“It’s very, very scary to think about,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t want to go back to work — it’s that we’re not able.”


Wapo
Trump administration backs off foreign-student visa restriction

The Trump administration on Tuesday dropped its plan to require foreign college students to leave the United States unless they are enrolled in the fall term for at least one face-to-face class.

The abrupt reversal, disclosed in a federal court in Boston, came a little more than a week after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued an edict that stunned U.S. higher education leaders and students worldwide.

Under the July 6 policy from ICE, foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities for the fall semester faced a mandate to take at least one course in person. Those students, ICE said, “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.”

That mandate posed a major obstacle to plans for online teaching and learning that colleges are developing in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the spring, the federal government had given schools much more leeway to teach foreign students online.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had sued to block the new policy. In a hearing in that case on Tuesday, held before U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs, the court announced that the schools and the federal government had reached an agreement that made the lawsuit moot.

“The government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020, policy directive and the frequently asked questions, the FAQs, that were released the next day on July 7,” Burroughs said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “They have also agreed to rescind any implementation of the directive.”

The judge said the agreement reverted policy to “the status quo” that had been developed in March, when schools in much of the country halted in-person teaching because of the pandemic. Campuses have been sparsely populated in the months since.

An assistant U.S. attorney who participated in the hearing, Rayford Farquhar, confirmed the judge’s understanding of the agreement, according to the transcript.

The Department of Homeland Security and ICE, a unit of the department, had no immediate comment.

Harvard has about 5,000 foreign students and MIT about 4,000.

In their suit, Harvard and MIT argued that the Trump administration’s action violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies make rules. They also claimed the ICE decision was a political move calculated to force universities to reopen campuses and hold classes in person despite the soaring toll of the coronavirus in death and illness.

Scores of universities, including the University of New Hampshire, supported their lawsuit, along with more than 70 higher education associations. So did Google, Twitter, Facebook and more than a dozen other tech companies.

Separately, 20 state attorneys general had challenged the guidance in court in recent days.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a leader in that effort, celebrated the outcome. “This ICE rule was senseless and illegal the minute it came out, and the Trump Administration knew it didn’t have a chance,” Healey said in a statement. “This is why we take action in court, why we stand up for our values, and why we will remain vigilant in protecting our international students from these harmful disruptions.”

Other universities had pushed back as well. Last week, Johns Hopkins University filed suit in federal court in the District of Columbia, arguing that the ICE rule was illegal and unconstitutional.

A coalition of 20 universities in western states, including Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and the University of Oregon, had filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to overturn the order.

“We are deeply grateful that the administration agreed to drop this poorly designed, counterproductive policy regarding international students,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. The council represents college and university leaders nationwide.

“The administration just had a clunker,” Hartle said. “At the end of the day, they decided they didn’t even want to try to defend it.”There are hundreds of thousands of foreign students in the United States. Tuesday’s news signaled a reprieve from a policy that threatened to disrupt their education.

“Oh man, I’m ecstatic,” said Azan Zahir Virji, 25. “I’m so glad to hear it. I’m so thankful.”

In the last week, Virji had panicked, worried that he would not be able to continue his education at Harvard’s medical school. His parents in Tanzania, a former hairstylist and an electrician, were trying to find money for a flight home for him. He was worrying about the expense, the risk of exposing them to coronavirus and whether his education would be entirely disrupted.

“It was always their dream to see me become a physician,” he said. “To get so close to it and almost lose it all, that was scary for them.”

So when Virji saw the news, through a tweet from another foreign student popping in at the end of an online class Tuesday, he raised his arms in the air, thrilled and relieved.

Even in the midst of his celebration, he still had a worry, he said. When he came to the United States in 2013 to attend Yale University, the idea of a visa being revoked or a student being deported seemed all but impossible, he said. Now, he feels differently. “I think this sentiment against immigrants is going to continue to grow. That’s in the back of my mind, thinking, ‘Am I still welcome here?’”