PORTLAND — One School Committee member wants to protect the city’s public schools from future harm in the wake of bad behavior by some Republican State Convention-goers at King Middle School last weekend.

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 today. “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 convention was held at the Portland Exposition Building, which is on Park Avenue, near the middle school. GOP loyalists 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 stolen and replaced with a bumper sticker that read, “Working People Vote Republican.”

Later, Clifford learned that his classroom had been searched when convention-goers called Principal Mike McCarthy to complain about other “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.

Thompson, whose children have attended King, noted that the middle school follows an Expeditionary Learning model that encourages students to investigate subjects thoroughly.

She also defended Clifford, saying that he wouldn’t promote one political ideology over another or limit students from expressing their own thoughts, which were reflected in some student-made posters in the classroom.

If convention-goers 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.”

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