Students angry over what they say is a lack of action by school administration dealing with bullying over equity and race issues protest outside of Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland on Friday, May 13, 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Claims of discrimination Portland middle schoolers made at two protests last month are backed by data collected by the district, Superintendent Xavier Botana told the board of education at its meeting Tuesday night.

Around 200 students from Lincoln and Lyman Moore middle schools gathered outside their respective school buildings on May 13 to protest race and gender harassment they said occurs regularly. The students said they don’t feel like adults are meaningfully listening to or responding to their concerns about discrimination and that perpetrators are not being held accountable.

The superintendent said this doesn’t come as a surprise to him. Botana opened a workshop to talk about the student protests by sharing data collected by the district that shows that students of color more often feel unsafe at school, do not feel like they are treated fairly and do not feel comfortable talking to adults at their schools. Data shared Tuesday also shows that students of color, particularly Black students, are more likely to be suspended.

Though Black students accounted for 47 percent of the middle school suspensions this year, only 30 percent of the students in the district are Black.

Neither Botana nor other district leaders mentioned missteps by the district on the day of the protests that resulted in students being locked out of school.

Following the May protests, Lincoln’s interim principal, Robyn Bailey, began a leave of absence. She remained on administrative leave as of Tuesday. The school district has not responded to requests from the Press Herald for details about her status.


In a slideshow Tuesday night, Botana also shared concerns directly from Lyman Moore middle school students who said they are being racially profiled at school – that teachers assume Black students are doing something bad and act surprised when students of color do well in school, among other things. Students also said that teachers don’t respond adequately when white students use racial slurs, often assuming the white students don’t know what they are saying and deserve a second chance.

“We have a lot of data that asserts that what the students are telling us is real,” Botana said. “It’s important to understand these are consistent themes across all three of our middle schools.”

Pervasive student-to-student mistreatment, lack of community, disparate treatment and a lack of structure for addressing student concerns were some of the consistent themes Botana listed in the presentation.

Botana said the school district’s equity efforts so far have not eliminated these issues.

He said it was time to recommit to creating a safer and more accepting environment for all students. He listed a series of events and actions the district has taken or plans to take before the end of the school year to support students at Lyman Moore, Lincoln and King middle schools. Students at King did not hold a protest last month but expressed concerns about discrimination similar to those highlighted at the Lincoln and Lyman Moore protests.

The district listed around a dozen ideas for how to support a more inclusive environment in its middle schools, including organizing student affinity groups, collaborating with students over the summer, conducting a student-designed survey to learn more about their experiences and revisiting discipline policies.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, many board members expressed their determination to create a more inclusive and supportive school environment for district students, but some said they were frustrated to see how prevalent discrimination appears to be in the district in 2022.

Board member Nyalat Biliew said it’s disappointing to see students today express concerns about issues she saw when she attended Portland’s public schools years ago. Biliew, who graduated in 2013, said there needs to be a stronger push to creating a school system that supports all students.

“It always ends up being the kids that have to express themselves for these problems to be in the spotlight and for the teachers to be held accountable,” she said. “It’s crazy we have kids here reminding us these problems are still so real.”

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