Outside Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland on Friday, students protest what they say is a lack of action from school administrators to stem bullying over equity and race issues. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

About 200 students gathered outside Lyman Moore and Lincoln middle schools in Portland on Friday morning to protest what they said is a culture of tolerance toward racism, bullying and other forms of discrimination at their schools.

Lyman Moore students gathered in a large circle holding signs that said “our voices will be heard,” “Black lives matter” and “we won’t be silenced.” They screamed in unison: “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now,” before beginning a march around their school building in North Deering.

Students said they feel adults aren’t taking them seriously. They said they are fed up with a lack of response from teachers and school administrators when they report being discriminated against and made fun of because of race, gender and sexuality, among other things. At both schools, students pinned most of the blame on their principals.

“We feel like our principal is being very dismissive,” Lyman Moore eighth-grader Angie Bekoka said of Principal Ben Donaldson.

Lyman Moore Middle School students protest what they describe as a lack of response from teachers and school administrators when they report discrimination incidents, in Portland on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Lincoln students also focused criticism on their principal. “Our school doesn’t want to fix problems of racism and our principal tried to stop us from protesting,” said Elizabeth Luka, a Lincoln eighth-grader.


But the principals said that is not the case.

“Last week when students shared concerns about negative peer interactions, feelings of being treated unfairly by adults based on their identities, and frustration with administrators for not acting quickly and clearly to address misbehavior, we had a decision to make,” wrote Donaldson in an email to the Press Herald on Thursday night. “Would we blame the kids and dismiss their concerns or would we take them seriously and honor their requests to be heard.

“Our plans for (Friday) reflect our commitment to hearing student concerns AND our commitment to helping students learn through their regular Friday classes,” he wrote.

Lincoln interim Principal Robyn Bailey had a similar message.

“At Lincoln, we support and want to hear student voices to make our school better,” she said.

Last year, Bailey apologized publicly for criticizing women of color on the Portland Charter Commission. In an email to city officials, she wrote that two charter commissioners would be “done, gone and trashed” if they were not people of color. Students at the protest referenced the email and accused their principal of racism.


“We feel like we can’t go to her with our concerns about racism after seeing that email,” said Lincoln eighth-grader Jack Brogan.

At the protests, students provided specific and general examples of discrimination. They said that as they walk through the halls they often hear a variety of prejudicial and racial slurs from other students and that students are heckled for using pronouns that don’t align with their biological sex.

Sorin Gray, an eighth-grader, speaks during a protest at Lyman Moore Middle School on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Bilan Houssein, who goes to school at Lyman Moore, said a white student in her class used a racial slur, but when she reported the incident, a teacher said it wasn’t a big deal.

Zoe Querido, a Lyman Moore student, said students were making fun of her, repeatedly asking what her pronouns were. Although she told multiple teachers about it, nothing was done, she said.

Lincoln eighth-grader Hussain Al-Hussaini said he was shamed by a faculty member for speaking Arabic.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana said in a phone call Thursday night that he had heard only vague and general allegations of discrimination and therefore the district was not looking into any specific incidents. “In general, there are a range of issues that the students are claiming are the reasons behind these protests,” he said. 


“Currently, we’re not investigating anything because they are vague claims,” he said. “We absolutely want to hear from the students and understand the underlying issues, so we are endeavoring to do that and engage with the students themselves and offer them multiple opportunities to have students’ voices heard.” 

In a statement Friday, Botana added that the district has been working toward supporting students reporting bullying and harassment, but that there is more to be done.

Angie Bekoka, an eighth-grader, speaks during a protest outside of Lyman Moore Middle School on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Today’s protests remind us that, in spite of our work to date, we still fall short in consistently creating a welcoming, safe and responsive experience for all of our students. As a district, we will continue to support student voices and engage with them and their families to root out the barriers that prevent every student from following their particular path to achieving their full potential.”

The district’s diversity, equity and inclusion director, Barrett Wilkinson, said he was proud to see students making their voices heard and that the district values student voices. “I think it’s amazing,” Wilkinson said. “It really shows the amount of frustration they have.”

Wilkinson said he couldn’t speak to the specific experiences of the students because he didn’t know exactly what it was like to be a 13-year-old at a Portland middle school, but that the district is working toward creating a more inclusive environment.

“That process takes time,” Wilkinson said. “And that’s not necessarily fair to them.”

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