Portland’s public school district says it could be several days before it releases data that it says shows Black students face more discipline than other students in city middle schools.

Although only 30 percent of students in the school district are Black, Black students accounted for 47 percent of middle school suspensions this year, Superintendent Xavier Botana said during a school board workshop about discrimination and harassment in district middle schools Tuesday night.

Students at Lyman Moore (pictured) and Lincoln middle schools protested in Portland on May 13 over what they say is a lack of action from school administrators to stem bullying over equity and race issues. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

This is an increased share from previous years, according to the numbers Botana presented. In 2020, Black students accounted for 42 percent of suspensions, in 2019, 38 percent and in 2018, 28 percent. Data from 2021 was not included.

Although Botana cited the school district’s own information when sharing these percentages, the district would not provide the underlying data or details about how the data was collected and analyzed on Wednesday. Portland Public Schools spokesperson Tess Nacelewicz said the district would provide further information to the Press Herald between Thursday and Monday.

The Maine Department of Education said Wednesday that it does not collect data about race and discipline that would reveal whether similar racial disparities are present elsewhere in the state.

The Portland school board’s focus on discrimination in the city’s middle schools comes about three weeks after students at Lincoln and Lyman Moore marched out of their schools to protest what they said is a culture of tolerance toward racism and other forms of discrimination at the schools.


Botana said the student allegations of discrimination are not new, are consistent across all three district middle schools and are echoed by data collected from student surveys conducted this year.

Students of color in the Portland school district are more likely than white students to feel unsafe, uncomfortable talking to adults at their schools and feel like they are subject to unfair treatment, according to information shared from parent and student surveys.

Now, as the school year is about to come to a close, the district is working to end on a positive note and prepare for next year by organizing student affinity groups, collaborating with students over the summer, conducting a student-designed survey to learn more about the student experience and revisiting discipline policies. 

Botana also said on Tuesday that he would like to use board contingency funds to support the district’s response to the protests. It is unclear exactly how much money would be used or what exactly it would be used for. Botana declined to be interviewed on Wednesday.

Several Lincoln middle school students interviewed on Wednesday said they were happy to see the school district is paying more attention to issues of discrimination and that they were very excited about the Black Student Union. But they questioned whether the equity efforts were genuine.

“It feels like teachers don’t really mean it and that the district isn’t doing these things because they want to, only because they feel like they have to,” said sixth-grader Rachehny Rasmey.

The students, some of whom did not want to be identified, said that although there have been opportunities to share their feelings about the protests and that teachers have put up posters promoting inclusivity, patterns of student-to-student discrimination and bullying have continued with the same lack of response from teachers they spoke of at the May protest.

Both the Lincoln and Lyman Moore protests took place on May 13. Although the Lyman Moore protest went smoothly, Lincoln students who did not return to class at the protest’s scheduled end time were locked out of school. It is unclear who kept students from re-entering the school but some have blamed Lincoln Interim Principal Robyn Bailey, who began a leave of absence shortly after the protests.

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