PARIS — Against the advice of their attorney, the Select Board voted Monday to accept petitions to recall two directors of Maine School Administrative District 17 because they support a proposed student gender identity policy.

The vote was 4-1, with Scott McElravy opposed to the move.

Select Board Chairman Christopher Summers and Selectmen Michael Bailey, Peter Kilgore and Carlton Sprague voted to accept the petitions to recall Julia Lester and Sarah Otterson during the emergency meeting Monday night.

The date of the recall has not been announced.

Nearly 700 residents signed the recall petition.

The recall was sparked by Lester’s and Otterson’s support of a gender identity policy being considered by the Oxford Hills school board. The controversial issue has divided parents in the eight-town district.

According to opponents, the policy would allow the school to withhold information such as a student’s gender identity and preferences, such as changing their pronoun or name in school, keeping it confidential from parents when the student requests it.

Proponents claim the policy would help protect children.

The first reading of the proposed policy passed on an 11-7 vote. The second and final reading is tentatively set for early December.

Town attorney Philip Saucier from the law firm Bernstein and Shur in Portland said that from his research on the issue, along with guidance from the Maine Municipal Association, the only way to remove a school board member would be if it is authorized by a charter.

“The school is a separate legal entity,” Saucier said. “It is not part of the town.”

Asked by Summers if the town could face legal jeopardy if it approved the recall vote, Saucier said, “It could certainly be subject to challenge, and a court would ultimately weigh in on this question.”

During public comment, Riley Colby, who described herself as a transgendered woman from Paris, voiced her support for the embattled school directors.

“What kind of message are we sending to the minority of kids if we’re punishing adults who do not vote the way some may have liked?” Colby asked.

The majority of those attending the meeting supported the recall effort.

“I’d like to remind our honorable selectmen here, what you’re looking at is not the policy,” Robert Jewell said. “It has nothing to do with the policy whatsoever. This is about a recall petition and whether you are going to act on it. It has nothing to do with gender at all.”

Armand Norton, who spearheaded the petition drive, echoed Jewell’s comments.

“Seven hundred people stood up in this town and said we do not want this policy,” Norton said. “This policy had nothing to do with transgendered. This policy was written by two people on the board who were promoting policies that interfered with a parent’s right to know. A parent’s right to know is protected by the 14th Amendment. A parent’s right to know is protected by the government.”

“You have an ordinance passed by the legislative body at a town meeting,” state Rep. John Andrews of Paris added. “If you guys don’t follow through and invalidate the ordinance, you’ll be setting the precedent that all ordinances on Paris will be invalid.”

Despite the advice from their attorney, the board decided the best course of action was to send the question to town voters for their decision.

To read a copy of the policy, go to https://tinyurl.com/yty6p7fr.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: