The statue of Edward Little outside the Auburn high school named for him. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — School committee member Patricia Gautier said she was devastated when she read the article. 

Faith Fontaine described herself as heartbroken while Superintendent Katy Grondin solemnly promised the school department is doing everything it can. 

There were no angry mobs or heated arguments at the Wednesday night School Committee meeting, the first since since The Boston Globe published a story highlighting what it described as racism at Edward Little High School. 

When it was time for public discussion, there was nobody in the audience at all to raise the issue. But committee members discussed it nonetheless, promising to address problems while also lamenting that The Boston Globe’s article might have irreparably changed the way people perceive Edward Little. 

“I don’t want people to believe that we’re a racist school,” said Fontaine, “or that people don’t feel welcome.” 

Edward Little — and the Auburn school system as a whole — has frequently been cited as among the most proactive in the state when it comes to adapting to societal changes. For school committee members, that made the unexpected criticism even more painful. 

“I think that we’re trying to do the best we can for our kids and give them the best environment they can have for learning,” Gautier said. “In my eyes, racism is not part of what I see as a culture at Edward Little High School, and I’m hoping that the system is taking care of it. In fact, I know they are, and I think the public needs to be aware of that.” 

In the 4,000-word story that appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, the article’s authors said they had found “racial incidents — captured in videos, contained in classroom taunts, and occasionally ending in fights — have become commonplace” at the Auburn school. 

Citing interviews with 14 immigrant students and several parents, the story said racism “has gone unchecked and festered” within the Auburn school’s student body. 

For Fontaine, an at-large committee member, the accusations hit close to home. Her daughter is dating a Muslim boy, she said, who has been a part of their family for 2½ years. Her 18-year-old daughter, an Edward Little graduate, was shocked by the article, Fontaine said. 

“She was devastated,” Fontaine said. “And she was so angry.” 

Her daughter’s friends, including her boyfriend, have said they had not experienced the kind of racism described in the Boston Globe article, Fontaine said. 

She said that in the past, any problems her daughter had at school were quickly addressed by Edward Little Principal Scott Annear and his staff. 

“I can say with all of my being that I know Scott takes everything serious,” Fontaine said. “If anyone comes to the administration and feels that they’re being attacked, or they’re not safe, or they’re being discriminated against because of their race or their religion, it’s not just brushed off.” 

The committee members vehemently defended the integrity of the high school, while also acknowledging no school is immune to problems in a society that is constantly changing. 

Grondin said in the wake of the Globe article, she has been in touch with Steve Wessler, founder of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence. In an earlier interview about the Globe piece, Wessler described the Auburn school system as among the most responsive of those with which he has worked. Of Edward Little, he described it as a school that does not deserve to be singled out. 

Wessler said he will be attending one of the School Committee meetings in September. 

Grondin said her administrators and teachers have received training and will continue to receive training to help them adapt to a changing society. 

“We’re always working on things. I want to assure you that following policies and investigating things that happen, that’s why you have administrators,” she said. “That’s why the board has supported the number of administrators at Edward Little: To make sure you have hands on deck. 

“We have to learn and be able to be proactive and teach our students and our staff about those changes so we can have a safe and respectful environments for all students.” 

Also at Wednesday night’s meeting, Annear updated the committee on the new grading system at Edward Little, which dropped the controversial proficiency-based learning grading of 1-4 last fall and went back to the traditional 0-100 scale. 

“When it comes to scoring and grading,” Annear said, “it’s been a long and evolving process.” 

Annear also circled back to the matter of the Boston Globe article. 

“Every kid’s perspective is important,” he said. “What we do to make sure that kids feel safe is incredibly important. We know that when they feel good about being at school, they do well at school.” 

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