RSU 21 Superintendent Kathryn Hawes addresses school board member Rachel Phipps at a February meeting in Kennebunk as the board considers reports of racist incidents at Kennebunk High School in 2016. In a statement she read at the start of the meeting, Hawes said, “I have learned that the issue is far more pervasive in our community, district and schools than I was aware.” GREGORY REC/Portland Press Herald

KENNEBUNK — Regional School Unit 21 took the first official step Monday in launching an independent investigation into the district’s handling of racist incidents that led a black teacher to file a race-based retaliation complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The board voted unanimously to retain attorney Peter Lowe and Lewiston firm Brann & Isaacson to guide the district through the process of hiring and selecting an independent investigator to look into the incidents directly related to the complaint.

Former Kennebunk High School social studies teacher Rosa Slack filed the complaint over a March 2016 incident in which a student came into her classroom with a Confederate flag draped over his shoulders. He was later suspended, as was another student who videotaped Slack’s reaction and put it on social media. Slack said the district retaliated against her a year later in a job review after she accused it of failing to fully address racist incidents at the school.

The reports prompted hundreds of community members to attend board meetings and call for an investigation. Board chairwoman Emily Kahn said Monday the board intends to have two investigations, the first highly targeted and a second one, if needed, to look into systemic or broader issues stemming from the primary investigation.

Board finance committee chairman Matt Fadiman said Monday the initial investigation could cost between $30,000 and $50,000.

Lowe, a partner at Brann & Isaacson, said his firm would not serve as the investigator, but would help select the investigator through a public bid process and offer legal advice during the investigation.

“I think this is a great start and I’m very happy in the direction we’re going,” said board member Tanya Alsberg.

The Maine Human Rights Commission has two years – until January 2020 – to make a finding, and fact-finding is underway, according to Slack’s attorney.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: