Skowhegan parents push for action after complaints of racism filed with school officials


SKOWHEGAN – Two women with minority children enrolled in schools in the Skowhegan area say there have been several instances in the last school year when the children have returned home reporting that they have been victimized racist taunts or other mistreatment from classmates.

The women, Sade Ellis and Erica Corson, said each time they contacted school officials to complain, but were disappointed by an administrative response they felt was ineffective.

“Racism happens every year with all my children,” said Ellis, the mother of three biracial children.

Their children attend schools in Maine School Administrative District 54, a district serving Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

It got so bad for Ellis’ 9-year-old son that he decided to stay home last month for the last three days of the school year after Ellis said his name was the N-word.

Meanwhile, her 14-year-old daughter was at a baseball activity in May when a boy hit a ball, looked at the girl and said, ‘I hit dingers and I hate (N-word)’, a said Ellis. Her daughter was also the subject of lewd remarks, she said.

The complaints filed by the two women echo similar concerns expressed in recent months by minority parents with children in the Waterville School District and also Fairfield-based MSAD 49. Parents have publicly expressed their frustration at what they see as the school’s lackluster response. leaders.

In one case, a Waterville parent told the school board in May that his daughter, who is black, “was not treated with the dignity and respect she should have been given,” adding that her child “has struggled to be safe” at school.

But administrators at MSAD 54 and other districts maintain that every complaint of racism, bullying or harassment is taken seriously and involves a tiered approach that can include outside agencies like the Human Rights Commission. of Maine.

Although school officials do not publicly comment on specific cases or investigations, Skowhegan-based MSAD 54 Superintendent Jon Moody said his district takes “all complaints of bias and discrimination extremely seriously.

“Board policies and procedures dictate the process for following up on allegations of bias and harassment, in addition to our principals (at Skowhegan Area Middle School and Skowhegan Area High School) who have everyone was trained in affirmative action.”

District policies are adopted in consultation with legal counsel “to ensure they comply with state and federal laws,” Moody said.

Ellis said he met with the district’s assistant superintendent, Mark Hatch, and the two “discussed ideas on how to change the behavior and tolerance of racism and sexism in the district.”

But she said the response from district officials over several months has been uneven.

“I emailed several people at school and some were responsive, some weren’t,” Ellis said.

Corson said she had similar experiences with her two children: a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.

“The main thing is exclusion,” Corson said. “My son is always the first to get noticed, every time. It’s his main problem that he feels every day. It might not even be conscious for people, but it happens when you’re the only black child.

Corson described an incident a few years ago when she said her daughter chose to leave class when a student told her classmates that ‘it’s okay to be racist’ after class read a book about Martin Luther King Jr.

Ellis decided to take time off from work to talk about what was going on with her children. She worked with district administrators and consulted with the state Department of Education, Maine American Civil Liberties Union, and other parties.

Roberta Hersom, superintendent of MSAD 49, said the purpose of any investigation is to gather the facts and determine if the allegations are credible. Complaints of discrimination or harassment are handled by the district’s affirmative action officer or an outside attorney because of the requirement for specialized training in those areas, she said.

“Our policies … make it clear that violations are taken very seriously and may result in disciplinary action against students or staff, up to and including expulsion or dismissal,” Hersom said.

The Maine School Boards Association provides resources that school boards can use when developing policies.

“The issues are considered very serious incidents by school districts, yet I know they have had very different levels of resolution depending on the situation and the concerns expressed by students and parents,” Steve said. Bailey, spokesperson for the association.

The association works with the Maine School Management Association to promote policies that focus on a range of offenses, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, and hazing.

The state Department of Education investigates Title IX complaints, while the Maine Human Rights Commission investigates complaints of discrimination. (Title IX is a common reference to federal civil rights law in the United States that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in a school or educational program that receives federal government funding.)

Additionally, the Maine Attorney General’s Office has a division that offers programs for schools. In 2019, this office provided training to students aimed at combating “bias and bullying in our schools”. A similar presentation is planned for elementary school staff in the fall.

Moody, the superintendent of MSAD 54, said that while he has the district’s perspective and how it responds to instances of hate or bias, “I am acutely aware that the lived experience of some families may suggest that discrimination and prejudice continue to persist. »

Ellis doesn’t know what will ultimately happen to his recent complaints. In her conversations with MSAD 54, she was assured that the district was working to “get more inclusive books into classrooms and libraries to include children of all races, disabilities, nations, etc., and even to include flesh-colored pencils as school supplies in the classroom to simply educate that there is more than one skin color.

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