The board of Regional School Unit 21 apologized to a former teacher this week, acknowledging it “mishandled” complaints she made more than two years ago about how the district responded to racially motivated incidents.

Rosa Slack Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We recognize that for Ms. (Rosa) Slack and her family, it was about doing the right thing for equality and education,” states the letter dated Monday. “Ms. Slack always puts students first. We are sorry that we, as a district, mishandled Ms. Slack’s harassment complaint and that she was retaliated against for speaking up.”

The letter goes on to acknowledge an anonymous student, “Jane Doe,” who also spoke up about race-based harassment and said the two are “profiles in courage” who “stood up and did the right thing for the greater good.”

Slack, in a statement issued through the law firm Johnson, Webbert & Young, accepted the district’s apology Tuesday and thanked those who supported her.

“I knew that if the board and the community had all of the information, they would do the right thing,” said Slack, who now teaches in Portland Public Schools. “The acknowledgement of the truth and acceptance of responsibility paves the way for healing.

“Just as importantly, this sets a clear and public marker of the RSU 21 School Board’s commitment to taking the hard, but necessary, steps to ensure that students and teachers of color have a safe and respectful learning environment. When instances of bias occur, the board’s and administration’s response will not be to blame the victim, but rather to address the incident of bias and to educate.”

School board Chairwoman Kendra Connor did not respond Tuesday afternoon to a phone call and email seeking comment. The district covers Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

The board’s letter this week follows an independent investigation into how Slack’s case was handled by the district, including her original concerns about racially motivated incidents. These included a 2017 event in her classroom when students videotaped her being confronted with a Confederate flag, and how the district responded when she reported them.

The investigation, completed in October, found Slack did experience harassment in the Confederate flag incident and she was retaliated against in a performance review.

The letter from the board this week also encourages the school’s Civil Rights Team to deliver a letter of solidarity, on RSU 21 letterhead, to students at Casco Bay High School in Portland who also have experienced racially motivated incidents – something Slack had tried to work with students on in 2017 but was prevented from doing by the school administration.

Slack and her attorneys first approached the district about potential legal claims around race discrimination and retaliation in July 2017.

In January 2018 she filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which was settled this summer for $50,000, an agreement to amend Slack’s employment records and a pledge for the district to begin long-term diversity, equity and inclusion work. The payment included $40,000 in attorneys’ fees and $10,000 in compensatory damages.

The letter this week talks about some of the things the district has done to engage in that work, including a “Day of Welcome” hosted by the Civil Rights Team last month, trainings with the U.S. Department of Justice and a revamp of civil rights incident reporting and investigation policies.

“We are committed to heal and move forward stronger and more informed than before,” the letter states. “Our students, staff, and communities deserve no less.”

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