Jameel Moore, a 2007 Greely High graduate, spoke Monday in support of the efforts of the district’s Equity Leadership Steering Committee.

CUMBERLAND — A recent letter to School Administrative District 51 residents from the district’s Equity Leadership Steering Committee, spurred by the death of George Floyd, has “generated a lot of discussion, support, and controversy around the topic of race,” according to Superintendent Jeff Porter.

The SAD 51 Board of Directors at its Monday meeting heard mostly positive feedback from residents concerning the statement – issued June 1 after the death one week prior of Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which has sparked anti-racism demonstrations globally – although some argued that the language was too strong.

Board Chairwoman Kate Perrin said she had received 10 pages of written statements on the letter, equating to about 110 emails, which she planned to have included in the meeting’s minutes. Only two were negative, she said Tuesday.

The 16-member equity committee, which includes four students, is co-chaired by School Board members Ann Maksymowicz and Tyler McGinley. It was formed through SAD 51’s work with Community Change, Inc., which the district hired last year following incidents of hate speech and racial discrimination at the middle and high schools.

“As a majority white school district, we stand in solidarity with Black Movement leaders,” states the letter. “We call for justice for George Floyd and for the many other Black lives that have been taken by white supremacy in our nation. It is our duty to educate ourselves and dismantle the violent and oppressive structures which have kept us divided.”

“We are actively learning that the supposed truths we’ve been socialized to believe about Blackness are violent and untrue,” the letter later notes. “We will work to assess our curriculum, educate our community within and outside of our school campus, dismantle the anti-Blackness all of us have internalized by living in a society built on white supremacy, and provide tools to interrupt anti-Black racism.”


According to a 2019-2020 student profile of SAD 51, 91.3% of students are white, 2.1% are Hispanic, 1.8% are Asian, 1.6% are black, and 3.1% are two or more races.

Among those the committee’s letter bristled was Julie McDonald of North Yarmouth, who said it was “incredibly important to not have any money spent on this group CCI; I highly object to their programming.”

SAD 51 budgeted $30,000 in fiscal year 2020 toward CCI but only spent about $13,000, and has $20,000 in next year’s budget for equity work, according to Porter and Finance Director Scott Poulin.

McDonald said she opposed programming with “any kind of educational language using terms like ‘white supremacist,’ ‘racist’ – anything like that, that brings that language into the school. … While there may be a newer understanding in 2020 of those terms, by some people perhaps on the board or in the community, I can tell you that kids, when they hear those terms, don’t think like adults do. … Those are very scary, scary words, and I would never as a parent bring that language into my home; I would choose to have that conversation with my children the way I choose.”

Nick Whiston, a parent representative on the equity committee, said the group has only put out a statement so far and has much work ahead. For those who object to the letter’s language, he said, “our purpose is partially to create dialogue, and we do want your voice in the room.”

Porter acknowledged in a June 3 letter to the community that “I realize not everyone is going to receive the message in the way it was intended. I also recognize that some of the terminology may have felt confrontational, such as ‘white majority’ and ‘white supremacy.'”


Although when he first went through training on the subject he “was very much taken aback by this language as well and felt personally attacked as a racist,” Porter said, “I now fully understand that this language is an accurate (and necessary) depiction of the long historical reality of race in this country, whether we want to accept it or not.”

Matthew Nutt, a Greely High Spanish teacher, said he agreed with the sentiment of the committee’s letter but understood why many residents “feel alienated, or to some extent, attacked.” The statement “could have focused on how we define racism, how we confront implicit bias, and how we seek to understand Blackness in America and in our community,” he said.

Jameel Moore, a 2007 Greely High graduate, described himself as “a person of color who spent their entire childhood” within SAD 51. He said he was “overwhelmed with pride and admiration” by the letter, but disheartened to learn it was “met with a great deal of backlash.”

“As a minority in a predominantly white academic and social environment, (it) is very concerning to me that the findings of the committee are being met with resistance,” Moore said, adding that while he had support from friends, coaches and teachers in his development and goals, “that doesn’t mean my experience was free of oppression.”

He recalled being thrown out of classes, having his pockets emptied on suspicion of carrying drugs, and undergoing extra scrutiny from Cumberland police – added attention that white students weren’t getting, Moore said.

SAD 51 “is in desperate need for an awakening on how the rest of the world works, and how people of color have been, and are continuing to be, treated,” he said.

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