SKOWHEGAN — School officials sent letters to families this week saying that some Ku Klux Klan fliers have been distributed in the community and that school officials will not tolerate hate speech and bigotry.

The letters follow KKK fliers that were reported to police in Waterville and were similar to ones distributed earlier this year in Augusta, Gardiner and Freeport.

In Skowhegan, reports of the KKK fliers are stirring new tension over the school board’s refusal to drop the “Indians” school mascot name.

Native American leader Barry Dana of Solon said the board’s decision illustrates how the town “has this mentality” among some people.

Dana said he realizes that not all members of the community are bigots or racists, but “if the silent majority continues to allow the name ‘Indians’ to stand, then they maintain fertile ground for this type of hate and bigotry.”

The KKK fliers were delivered in plastic bags, similar to the way fliers were found in other communities.

The flier appears to be a copy of those found in Waterville, headlined “Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” with a drawing of a figure in a white hood underneath. The words “Neighborhood Watch” are above an American flag. Beneath it, the flier reads, “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.”

It lists a toll-free telephone number, which it says is a “24 Hour Klanline” people can call if there are “troubles” in their neighborhoods. Calling the number prompts a message in which a man thanks the caller for calling the Tradititionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, asks the caller to dial a number “if you know your party’s extension,” twice gives its website address and closes with, “Thank you, and have a great white day.”

Brent Colbry, superintendent of Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54, said letters were sent to the families of students in all seven of the district’s towns at the urging of Brandon Baldwin, program manager of the Civil Rights Team Project in the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

The letter, written by Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Moody, said the fliers were left on the driveways and doorsteps of some homes in Skowhegan and possibly some neighboring towns. Colbry said the schools in the district were not targeted.

The letter to parents says the fliers “are a sad reminder that we can never stop educating our children about our country’s history and our fundamental belief that we are all created equal under the law.

“We’ve taught our kids that bigotry and hate have no place in our schools or communities,” the letter says.

But Dana, onetime chief of the Penobscot Nation, said Wednesday that the school district can’t have it both ways – the community either supports hate and bigotry or it doesn’t, and keeping the “Indians” mascot is an insulting form of bigotry.

Dana has made that argument to the school board in recent years as part of the effort to get the school to stop using the nickname.

The SAD 54 school board voted 11-9 in May 2015 against changing the “Indians” mascot for sports teams, after months of passionate debate.

In response to Dana’s comments, Colbry said he doesn’t see the appearance of KKK propaganda in Skowhegan and the matter of the “Indians” mascot as related issues.

“We were reacting yesterday to the KKK flier; we were not trying to link those two things,” Colbry said. “We were just reacting to the concern that this might be frightening to children and their parents. We weren’t focused on the issue of discrimination.”

Richard Irwin, a 30-year veteran of the school board who voted to keep the “Indians” name in 2015, agreed with Colbry. “I think they are two completely different issues,” he said.

The school district’s letter says officials “believe that it is fundamental to ensure that all our students and their families, regardless of their race, religion or background, feel that our schools are places where they are safe and loved.”

The KKK was once a force in Maine, where as recently as 1924 membership was 40,000 and buoyed itself on anti-Catholic sentiment. By 1930, only about 225 Klan members remained. KKK literature appeared in spots throughout Maine in the 1990s, but those were mostly isolated events.

Skowhegan Police Chief Joel Cummings said it appears the plastic bags containing the fliers were weighted down with fish tank stones, as were the fliers distributed in Waterville.

Cummings said the police department has received five complaints about the fliers over the past three or four days.

He said, “Although this activity is protected under the First Amendment, the fact that these fliers are being distributed in the dark of night underscores the storied past of this organization and its wish to remain relevant.”

Doug Harlow can be contact at 612-2367 or at:

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