The Portland Board of Education is considering the adoption of three wide-ranging resolutions designed to protect immigrant students and their families and safeguard the free-speech rights of school employees.

The resolutions were introduced during a workshop session of the board Tuesday night. One would protect immigrant students from hateful speech and violent actions.

Another would prohibit the use of school district resources – unless required by court order – to assist in the apprehension of undocumented immigrants.

The third would affirm the right of school department employees to speak out on national issues.

School board member Jenna Vendil said she felt the resolutions were needed after four black Casco Bay High School students became the target of an alleged hate crime last month.

She said the school department will review the language in each resolution before they are brought before the board for a first reading Feb. 28 and a final vote March 7.


Vendil said about 50 school districts around the country have adopted similar resolutions.

One resolution introduced Tuesday night “declares Portland Public Schools to be a safe haven for students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination, to the fullest extent permitted by law.” It goes on to state that district resources will not be used “for the purpose of detecting or assisting in the apprehension of persons whose only violation of law is or may be being an undocumented resident.”

Another resolution under consideration “condemns all hateful speech and violent action directed at Muslims, those perceived as Muslims, immigrants and people of color.”

The resolution states that the “recent escalation of hateful rhetoric against Muslims” is especially harmful to children and the school community.

“I felt after the attack on our students that this was an opportunity for us to show all our students that we are willing to take a stand for their rights,” Vendil explained.

Messages posted on a Facebook page titled “Support Superintendent Xavier Botana” encouraged supporters to turn out en masse for Tuesday’s meeting, but just under 20 people showed up.


The Maine Republican Party accused Botana early this month of politicizing the alleged hate crime.

Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch said four ninth-grade students were waiting for the Metro bus Jan. 27 outside Casco Bay High School when they were approached by three older white young people, one of whom made a “derogatory and racist remark” directed at them. A verbal confrontation ensued and the suspect allegedly assaulted two other students who intervened. At one point, the suspect brandished what was later determined to be a screwdriver.

Jamie Hoffman, 20, of Portland was arrested. He pleaded not guilty on Feb. 6 to two counts of assault and a charge of interfering with constitutional rights.

The incident prompted Botana to write an open letter to the Portland school community on Jan. 29.

“More importantly, I want to take this opportunity to encourage all of us to understand the noxious environment in which this deplorable event took place.

On Friday, the president signed an executive order barring immigrants from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. This came on the heels of another order to build a wall along the United States’ southern border,” Botana wrote.


“For a long time now, the rhetoric accompanying these actions represents a radical and disturbing departure from the principles on which this country was built and which so many have fought to protect and extend,” said Botana, who is himself an immigrant.

Botana’s letter was followed by a “unity rally” – held after classroom hours – outside Casco Bay High School. About 300 students participated.

Botana’s letter came under scrutiny by the Maine Republican Party, which issued its own statement saying that Botana’s comments were “inappropriate.”

“Maine GOP has received numerous complaints regarding those particular paragraphs, some even from school district employees. We have doubts that Mr. Botana is operating alone, and that there may be a bigger partisan agenda at play here,” said Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party.

But several people who spoke at Tuesday night’s board meeting rejected the suggestion that Botana’s actions were partisan.

Ima Demers, who works as an educational technician at Reiche School and has taught English as a second language, thanked Botana for taking a stand.


She said immigrant students at Reiche School cried when they learned about President Trump’s new immigration ban, fearing that it would displace friends and family members.

“I’m glad that you as superintendent are doing this for all of our children, especially those who come from different countries,” Demers said.

Doris Santoro, a Bowdoin College professor of education who lives in Portland, said Botana’s open letter is affixed to the door of her office.

She thanked him for his “moral courage.”

“In this political climate, it’s imperative that we speak out whenever we see injustice,” said Leslie Kaynor, a Portland resident.

One of the resolutions under consideration states that the board “recognizes the importance of participation by school employees in public debate over local, state and national policy and civic issues,” and “encourages school staff to continue speaking out for public school students and public education in a way that is consistent with their duties as educators.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: