Portland school administrators say fights that erupted after football games and resulted in injuries to students are the primary reason the district recently enacted a policy that restricted students to attending athletic contests only at their high school.

District officials spent more than an hour Tuesday evening explaining their decision to implement a new attendance policy, which states that “Portland High students can only attend Portland High games, and Deering High students can only attend Deering High games.” Casco Bay High students may attend events at whichever school they compete for in athletics or at any game with a legal guardian.

Only two parents spoke at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, but both said the new policy was concerning to them. They said the policy only further divides the Deering and Portland school communities and does nothing to bring the school district together. They said the policy punishes the entire school community for the actions of a few individuals.

Erin Chase said the district could have done better by involving student leaders and parents in the decision to institute a “restrictive policy that only adds to the divide between the high schools. I think this decision is disappointing at best and hypocritical at worst.”

Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana admitted that he could have done a better job of communicating the new policy to the Portland school community. Late last month, Botana sent a two-paragraph letter to parents and students about the new spectator policy, which took effect Oct. 3. In the letter, he said the policy came in the wake of “a few incidents of verbal and physical altercations at and after sporting events involving spectators.” The letter did not provide any details.

“I take responsibility for the poor communication,” Botana told the board, adding that the policy might have come across as being “abrupt” to those members of the school community, who were not aware of the reasons behind it.


But at Tuesday’s board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Aaron Townsend said the policy was driven by student fights that broke out after high school football games and resulted in several students receiving medical care. He did not elaborate on the nature of the injuries, the number of students who required medical attention, or the reasons for the fights, but said school administrators agreed they needed to come up with a way to make everyone feel safe at games. Most of the fights broke out behind the bleachers and in parking lots.

Since the incidents took place, Portland High Athletic Director Lance Johnson said he and two Portland police officers routinely walk through parking lots to ensure that everyone leaves a game safely and in as timely a manner as possible. Teachers and school administrators also stand by the entrance to high school football games to make sure that the students are following the new spectator attendance policy, Johnson said.

Botana said the policy is temporary and likely won’t be extended beyond the high school football season and the playoffs. One of the solutions his staff is considering is moving the Friday night football games to Friday or Saturday afternoon during daylight hours.

While most of the fights have involved Deering and Portland high school students, school officials said some of the incidents have involved students from outside the Portland Public Schools district.

The new spectator attendance policy will be waived for the Deering and Portland high school annual Thanksgiving Day football game at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Emily Figdor, school board chair, said more comment will be allowed on the spectator attendance issue during the public comment period of the board’s next meeting on Oct. 18.

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