Students at Lyman Moore (pictured) and Lincoln middle schools protested in Portland on Friday over what they say is a lack of action from school administrators to stem bullying over equity and race issues. Lincoln students also focused criticism on their principal. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The principal of Lincoln Middle School in Portland has requested a leave of absence following a student protest last week in which students said teachers and administrators are not taking their reports of discrimination and harassment seriously.

Interim Principal Robyn Bailey, who came under fire last fall for an email she wrote to city officials criticizing social media posts by women of color on the Portland Charter Commission, requested a leave of absence as of Monday, according to a letter Superintendent Xavier Botana wrote to Lincoln Middle School families. Last year, Botana promoted Bailey from assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School to interim principal.

In his letter to Lincoln Middle School families, Botana informs parents of the events that took place during Friday’s protest and shares his expectations for the coming week.

“At my direction, Lincoln leadership created a setting that honored students’ choice about whether to participate in the protest, and to do so safely,” Botana wrote. “I firmly believe that our work as a school system involves creating opportunities for authentic student voice and civic engagement.”

At the very end of his letter to families, Botana mentions that Bailey requested a leave of absence, effective Monday, May 16.



Botana does not mention whether he granted Bailey’s request, how long the leave would remain in effect, or if her leave of absence would be paid. Botana says only that Lincoln Middle School parents should direct further questions to Assistant Principal Kathleen Marquis-Girard or to Assistant Superintendent Aaron Townsend.

The superintendent did not respond to a voicemail Monday regarding Bailey’s requested leave of absence and the protest. A spokesperson for the school district said there would be no further details provided on Bailey’s request for a leave of absence because it is a personnel matter.

A message left on Bailey’s cellphone seeking an interview was not returned Monday night.

In his letter, Botana said last Friday’s protest was organized by students to give voice to their concerns about racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic experiences they have had while at Lincoln. Botana indicates that the protest was sanctioned by the school district, with time restrictions on how long it would last and when students would need to return to classes.

Students staged a similar protest Friday morning at Lyman Moore Middle School. Students from both schools 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.

Bailey and Lyman Moore Principal Ben Donaldson said that is simply 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,”  Donaldson said in an email to the Press Herald. “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.

Bailey had a similar message.

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


In his letter to Lincoln Middle School families, Botana said that he does not expect there to be further protests, adding, “any attempt to do so will be unsanctioned and unsupported by the district with corresponding consequences.”


He said the district will be scheduling a Lincoln community meeting in the coming days to further discuss the concerns raised by students and the school’s strategies for responding.

“By and large students lived up to our trust in them, although a significant number of students stayed out past the time that we had scheduled for classes to resume, and as a result were marked absent and their parents were informed,” Botana wrote. “Most students conducted themselves peacefully.”

A Deering High School student, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote in an email to the Press Herald that their younger sibling is a Lincoln Middle School student. The middle school student did not immediately return to the school after the protest ended. When that student and others attempted to return to the school, they “were turned away at the doors, told they were not allowed back inside as punishment.”

Botana addressed the protest lockout in his letter to the Lincoln school community. He confirmed that some students were prevented from re-entering the school building.

“I also wanted to acknowledge that we did not execute the plan as effectively as we wanted. Families were not notified until late in the day that students had overstayed their allotted protest time,” Botana said. “And some students were prevented from re-entering the building after the protest time was up. Some students were erroneously told that they would be suspended for their participation in the protest. I apologize for our poor execution on the advertised plan.”

“I hope you will stay engaged and involved in our efforts to make Lincoln a welcoming and safe place for every student regardless of their race, national origin, gender or sexual identity,” Botana wrote.



Bailey made news last fall when she wrote an email to city officials criticizing social media posts by two newly elected members of the city’s charter commission, both of whom are women of color. Bailey’s husband also had run for the charter commission and lost. Some students cited Bailey’s controversial email that she sent to city officials last year during last week’s protest.

“We simply don’t have the same racially charged issues as other big cities, but we are creating them,” Bailey wrote in the email. “No one wants to hear my next words, but we all know that if the people saying these things were NOT people of color, they’d be done, gone and trashed. Please hold ALL people accountable for their words. …”

The emergence of the email prompted a backlash in the community and questions about whether Bailey was committed to the school department’s values of diversity and inclusion.

Bailey later issued a public apology, promising to learn from the mistake and to not let the email define her.

However, Bailey’s email was still on the mind of some students who protested Friday, saying school officials were not taking seriously incidents of bias and harassment in school.

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

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