Dear RSU 21 Community,
Many of you may have read the article in last Sunday’s Maine Sunday Telegram headlined “Racist Incident at Kennebunk School Grows into Wider Conflict,” trying to make the case that our District has not taken incidents of racial bias seriously. This is simply not true. RSU 21 has zero tolerance for discrimination or harassment in any form.
The article contains a number of factual errors and unfairly casts the RSU 21 school community in a negative light. I signed an agreement with the Maine Human Rights Commission to keep information exchanged during its investigation of Rosa Slack’s complaint confidential as did Ms. Slack. I believe I am bound by that agreement and I do not think it is appropriate to try this case in the media. However, it important for the community to understand that contrary to the statements made by Ms. Slack’s attorney, RSU 21 takes all complaints seriously, investigates them, and takes prompt effective remedial action. Furthermore, the RSU 21 Board did not reject suggestions of anti-bias training. Rather, the primary issue of disagreement between the school board and Ms. Slack related to the demand for a cash payment made by her attorney.
Discrimination, harassment and bullying are issues that all school districts struggle with and RSU 21 is no exception. As I said in the Portland Press Herald article, I remain convinced that by far the majority of our staff, our students and our community is open minded, welcoming, and accepting and I am concerned that the newspaper and our former employee have suggested otherwise. But we know that a majority is not enough. That is why fighting bullying – including bullying based on race, disability or any other personal characteristic -- is one of the three school board goals and we have provided focused training for our administrators on how to investigate incidents such as this and how to take appropriate remedial action. And it is why we were the first district in the state to institute the “Say Something Anonymous Reporting System”, a way for all members of our school community to report bullying and harassment. Because if bullying or harassment affects even one person in our district it is one person too many.
Assistant Superintendent Potenziano and I have been arranging an equity audit so that we are able to understand where to target anti-bias training and how to provide the most effective training possible. In addition, the administration and the Board of RSU 21 welcomes suggestions about other things we should be doing.
Our efforts to tackle this critical issue are separate from Ms. Slack’s case that is before the Maine Human Rights Commission. We hope that going forward, Ms. Slack’s attorney will abide by the Commission’s rules regarding confidentiality so that the investigation can be completed as it should be.
I urge our community to support our constructive efforts to keep our schools safe and welcoming to all.
Kathryn Hawes, Ph.D.Superintendent of SchoolsRSU 21(207) 985-1100