School board members at RSU 21 in Kennebunk agreed Monday night to take steps towards launching an independent investigation into the district’s response to racist incidents at its schools in recent years.
Hundreds of community members came out to the school board meeting, which was scheduled after a recent Portland Press Herald article detailed a Maine Human Rights Commission complaint by a former Kennebunk High School teacher.
In the complaint, Rosa Slack describes racist behavior by students directed at her, including some involving a Confederate flag, and says she faced retaliation because of her opposition to the district’s response.
Dozens of students, teachers and community members spoke at Monday night’s meeting. Many said that the board needed to take immediate action to address the problems within the schools.
Middle school teacher Rachel McGlashan told the board that the incidents described in the complaint are only one part of the problem, and said the district needs to listen to students.
"That it’s not just students walking through the door with a Confederate flag on their shoulders," McGlashan said. "That it’s small comments in the hallway. There’s a lot going on in cafeterias, in the bus. I think it’s time to find out what’s happening and what kids are saying."
Lawyers and RSU 21 officials described their own version of events, with district administrators saying they followed protocols. However, many community and school board members asked the district to take action to address underlying issues.
Member Matthew Fadiman apologized to the community and called for district-wide anti-bias training. "I didn’t ask the tough questions or seek the tough answers," Fadiman said. "I simply relied on what I was told, which means I didn’t do my job. And that ends now."
The board ultimately voted to form a sub-committee, which will begin determining the scope of an independent investigation into the issue before a school board meeting next Monday. District administrators were also asked to get more information on an “equity audit” to examine disparities across the district.