PORTLAND – One School Committee member, saying she’s “appalled” by the behavior of some of the Republicans who used a room at King Middle School last weekend, wants to protect the city’s public schools from future harm.
Sarah Thompson said she plans to raise the issue when the committee meets on May 19. She has asked Superintendent Jim Morse to contact City Manager Joe Gray so the committee will have a clear understanding of policies and legalities related to the rental and public use of school buildings.
“We allowed them to use the space and I’m appalled that they would go through a teacher’s things, let alone remove something from a classroom,” Thompson said Wednesday. “We want the public to use school spaces, but they need to respect that it’s a school and understand that they should leave it the way they find it.”
The Republican State Convention was held at the Portland Exposition Building, which is on Park Avenue, near the middle school. Party members from Knox County caucused in a classroom used by eighth-grade social studies teacher Paul Clifford.
When Clifford returned to school on Monday, he found that a favorite poster about the U.S. labor movement had been taken and replaced with a bumper sticker that read, “Working People Vote Republican.”
Later, Clifford learned that his classroom had been searched. Republicans who had attended the convention called Principal Mike McCarthy to complain about “anti-American” things they saw there, including a closed box containing copies of the U.S. Constitution that were published by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Maine Republican Party leaders have issued a written apology to King students and teachers.
“King Middle School was kind enough to allow the (party) to use their facilities and we are deeply concerned about the lack of respect shown to the faculty,” wrote Executive Director Christie-Lee McNally.
McNally said the party doesn’t condone the destruction of property or encourage the lack of tolerance that a few convention-goers demonstrated.
“Over 900 other people attended these caucuses without incident and I hope that the actions of few do not tarnish the image of many,” she said.
Thompson, whose children have attended King, noted that the middle school follows an Expeditionary Learning curriculum, which encourages students to investigate subjects in depth and from all angles.
She also defended Clifford, saying that he wouldn’t promote one political ideology over another or restrict students from expressing their own thoughts, which were reflected in some posters in the classroom that students had made.
If the Republicans who used the room didn’t like what they saw, they had every right to complain, by writing a letter or making a phone call, Thompson said. They didn’t have the right to search, destroy or take anything in the classroom.
“School is about the exploration of ideas,” Thompson said. “People need to respect that, regardless of their political party.”
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: