A southern York County school district is wrestling with issues related to race and diversity, including displays of the Confederate flag and how to undertake and show public support for equity work.

The situation has led to the resignation of one of the most popular teachers in North Berwick-based School Administrative District 60. Jen England submitted her resignation and read a powerful statement calling out district leadership at a school board meeting on June 17.

“Your silence is hurting our entire school community,” England said. “I cannot be a part of a system that refuses to heed the call of history to do the hard work and navigate the challenging conversations that ensure we are sincerely dedicated to creating just, equitable, and inclusive schools, classrooms and communities.”

England, who was the 2017 York County Teacher of the Year, said the district failed to respond to a statement the Maine Department of Education made in December regarding equity and inclusion. She also said SAD 60 didn’t act on a request to issue a statement in support of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and there is an issue with racism and Confederate flags at the high school that leadership has refused to address.

The concerns come as districts around the country are taking steps to respond to the racial justice movements of the past year and as debates over critical race theory have polarized school boards and statehouses nationwide. Officials in SAD 60, which includes the towns of Berwick and Lebanon in addition to North Berwick, said they are proud of the diversity work they’re doing and that they are trying to take a thoughtful, intentional approach.

The exterior of Noble High School in North Berwick Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“We’ve been very deliberate about how we’ve been approaching this work because we want to do it right for our students and we feel we’re on the absolute right trajectory,” said Superintendent Audra Beauvais.


Some community members, however, said they feel the district isn’t doing enough to counter racism. “It’s very toxic and they need to do better,” said Cassandra Worrell, a 2021 graduate. “They need to fight for all of their kids and realize these kids have a future that they have to handle themselves in.”

Worrell, whose mother is Indian and whose father is white, also said there is an issue with racism and the Confederate flag at the high school. About 93 percent of students in SAD 60 are white, according to DOE data.

“We’d have discussions in class – say history class – and we’d be bringing up slaves and everything,” Worrell said. “Some kids would be ignorant (and say things like), ‘It’s over now. Why are you still stressing?’ It’s little things like that. I don’t know if they just couldn’t comprehend or if they’re just racist. But it’s really not hard to comprehend. … It blows my mind and I don’t think it’s talked about enough.”

Peg Wheeler, whose son is Black and a student at Noble High School, said there is a problem with Confederate flags on pickup trucks in the high school parking lot, but nothing has been done about it.

“That’s how Black students feel all day – they walk into a place where they know that’s OK and it’s not considered, I think, a safe environment,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think my son feels threatened at school, … but they’ve come to accept that this is very much a part of their everyday life here that isn’t going to change.”

Administrators said they are only aware of one instance of the flag being seen at the high school parking lot this past year, but there have been other displays in schools. In two cases, students had the flag on display in the background while attending virtual classes. Joe Findlay, the high school principal, said the students were spoken to by administrators and immediately took the images down. In a third incident, a student wore a Confederate flag to school on a sweatshirt but complied when he was asked to remove it.


The high school also had an incident at graduation this year in which a Black staff member who was on his way to give a gift to a graduate after the ceremony was called a racial slur by a youth standing in a group in the school parking lot.

Police did charge the 17-year-old, who was from Rochester, New Hampshire, and is not a Noble student, with unlawful furnishing of a schedule W drug, though there were no charges issued with regard to the use of the slur, according to North Berwick Police Chief Stephen Peasley. The Maine Attorney General’s Office has made a record of the incident, however, which could be used to corroborate future complaints.

“Fortunately, he wasn’t one of our students, but it just reinforces that this problem is very serious,” Findlay said. “It’s not just our problem. It’s really a national problem. It bubbles up for people of color and most of the time you don’t even hear about it. If he wasn’t one of our teachers, he probably never would have even reported it. So I think we have to really be aware of that.”

The school department released a list of ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including working with an equity consultant, administrative and board workshops, monthly meetings of teachers to discuss diversity topics, implicit bias training and an analysis of library materials through an equity lens that they’ve undertaken this year.

But England said they have refused to “publicly support, endorse or mandate” a statement the Maine Department of Education released in December affirming a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and encouraging school districts to do the same.

In an interview, the superintendent, assistant superintendent and principal expressed support for the DOE statement and said they were approached by the Noble Antiracism Collective, a group of educators whose mission is to acknowledge and combat racism in the district, about issuing a similar statement to the SAD 60 community.


Beauvais, the superintendent, said the district is drafting a one-page overview of their work that will include a statement of commitment, but its release has been delayed by the process of seeking feedback and by school board elections.

“We plan to get it out as soon as we’re able to do so,” Beauvais said, though she did not give a date for when the overview might go out. “It’s in draft form and then it’s going to go to the board. So we’re going to talk through some of that with our professional development and it will go out.”

England, the teacher who resigned, declined a request for an interview and suggested a reporter speak with the president of the Noble Antiracism Collective. The president, Christopher Jones, also declined an interview, saying he didn’t feel comfortable talking on the topic because there is still work being done.

In her statement to the board, England said the district also hadn’t issued a statement in support of Asian American and Pacific Islander Awareness Month last month, even though they were asked to do so. Administrators said they were not aware of any such request.

“We encourage teachers, administrators and support staff to highlight the accomplishments of and support diverse populations,” Beauvais said. “We also support our staff who do that all year long and don’t wait for a certain month to highlight things,” she added.

While the school department did not issue a statement in support of Asian American and Pacific Islander Awareness Month, the North Berwick Board of Selectmen did. Jon Hall, who is a selectman as well as a teacher at Noble Middle School, said he brought forward the proclamation after being approached by some residents of Pacific Islander and Asian descent who expressed concerns about not feeling welcome in the community.


“I think a lot of it had to do with the coronavirus and the president calling it the China virus and that becoming a catch-all for all people of Asian heritage,” Hall said, listing the concerns he heard from residents. “And a lot of just bullying that was happening towards individual students from other students in the school system.”

Hall said the use of the Confederate flag was an issue in classrooms this past year, and he feels not enough was done to address it. “Issues around the Confederate flag in our school spaces is definitely an issue I would like to see addressed,” he said.

Ian Dudley, who graduated in 2017, remembers seeing Confederate flags in the parking lot and on T-shirts students wore to school. “It was always, ‘Oh it’s just a rebel flag,'” said Dudley, who lives in Berwick and is Black. “In my eyes it was the complete opposite of that. It was this symbol that these people just didn’t want to let go of something that happened in our history. … In my eyes it was whoever is wearing that shirt wants slavery back.”

Dudley said he never reported the flags or any racism he experienced to administrators because he felt like the majority white staff wouldn’t understand. “I just kind of gave up and did my best to blend in with the crowd,” Dudley said. “It kind of made me the person I am today. I can kind of get along with anybody.”

He said there are many things the school board and district could do to improve the environment for students of color, including providing opportunities for those students to connect with one another. “They need to put some type of inclusion with the minorities at Noble High School, whether it’s giving them time to find each other through some type of multicultural room or just the ability to have free time and slow down,” Dudley said.

Several school board members, including the new board chair, Nancy Neubert, did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment on England’s resignation and the district’s diversity work. Denise Mallett, the outgoing board chair, declined to comment on a personnel issue and said the superintendent and assistant superintendent were best suited to talk about diversity and inclusion work.


Astrida Schaeffer, who recently finished a three-year term on the board, said she regrets not having done more to address the concerns England expressed. “I myself didn’t do due diligence there because I wasn’t tracking statements,” she said. “I could have brought it up in a meeting but we were all focused on COVID. That doesn’t mean other problems aren’t there that are ongoing.”

Now, she said, the district has lost one of its best teachers. “She’s very highly respected and there’s a hole in the district now, honestly,” Schaeffer said.

England has taught in the district for years and in 2017 was named the York County Teacher of the Year. The Teacher of the Year program is a prestigious award for Maine educators aimed at recognizing their contributions and elevating their voices. England was also one of three finalists that year for the 2018 Maine Teacher of the Year.

Worrell, England’s former student, said she was responsible for helping her accomplish one of her biggest goals: graduating from high school. She described herself as a struggling student who had previously dropped out but found her groove in the multiple pathways program, where England held her accountable for doing her work but not in a way that made her not want to continue high school.

“I’m proud of her,” Worrell said. “The amount of courage she had to leave her career for people like me, my friends, future kids, that was a lot. It was very sweet and I appreciate it, but it’s also heartbreaking she had to leave due to a school not taking care of problems they should be.”

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