Some staff members at Windham High School say the recent debate over challenged school library books has had a chilling effect on how educators respond to increasing instances of harassment of LGBTQ+ students and on other aspects of teaching as well.

Teachers who otherwise would push back against name-calling and other inappropriate behavior in classrooms now are concerned about the potential repercussions of doing so, and they’re nervous about teaching some topics, according to staff members who spoke with Lakes Region Weekly.

“With students whose parents hold positions of power in the district, staff members are hesitant because it’s going to lead in a direction where they get reported or targeted,” said Amber McKenzie, a special ed teacher. 

In addition, some parents angry about the presence of the controversial books, most of which deal with LGBTQ+ issues, have claimed at recent RSU 14 board meetings that many teachers, staff members and guidance counselors are not to be trusted and some accuse them of sexualizing students. Teachers don’t want to be the recipients of those accusations.

High school biology teacher Steve Adams said teaching is a profession “we take for granted to fix most of society’s issues,” and parents calling teachers “pedophiles” and “groomers” only makes the jobs harder.

Tumultuous Windham-Raymond school board meetings over eight challenged books have been taking place for almost three months now, and the discussion will likely continue for months more. The school board last week voted to uphold a review committee’s recommendation to keep the most highly contested book, “Gender Queer,” with two members voting to remove it. The review committee this week recommended keeping the second book on the challenged list, “Nick and Charlie,” in the middle school library. If that recommendation is appealed, the final decision will again fall to the school board.


Before the book challenges became a hot topic in the district, it was usually the same few students who McKenzie had to remind to be respectful of classmates, she said, but now she’s noticing more sexual, rude and inappropriate comments in general, including comments directed at teachers.

“In the heat of the moment I think students just say what they hear and blurt it out,” she said.

Parents who use hateful or extreme language during the school board meetings have made the situation worse, said Maire Trombley, an ed tech at the high school.

Adam Zajac, for example, charged at an April meeting that the only explanation for teachers wanting to keep the challenged books in school is that they are “weirdos having sexual fantasies about our kids.” During public comment periods about the books, Ken Clark, a Windham resident, has used his time on a couple of occasions to argue that transgender students should be required to use bathrooms designated for their assigned sex at birth, and to complain about school posters that he says encourage students to change their names and pronouns without parental consent.  Multiple parents have urged others to take their children out of the school district, claiming that sexuality is being forced upon students.

Trombley has written to the board several times asking that members prohibit comments that target students, staff and teachers, and to restrict discussion solely to the books being discussed.

“People need to stop when it crosses a line – speak up and say that comment was hateful,” said Trombley, who has a transgender child who attends Windham Middle School. The town and students are “getting a message that this is OK.”


“Students feel empowered to say whatever they want because they know their parents don’t value what we’re trying to get across,” she said. “A lot of teachers won’t put a stop to the comments for a variety of reasons.”

She cited two recent examples of student comments directed at her.

“One of my duties is to watch the boys’ bathroom from outside and say hurry up, and it is common for someone to tell me to ‘f off’ or to stop caring what they’re doing with their (genitals),” she said. 

While she was substituting for a classroom teacher recently, a group of boys in the class were making sexually explicit comments and gestures. When she asked them to stop they accused her of “making it sexual” and said “teachers are so sexual now.” Trombley said in the wake of some parents’ claims that teachers are “sexualizing students,” she thinks teachers are “on edge” about how their own actions might be misconstrued.

Adams said bullying has become “more brazen” and teachers are at a disadvantage when addressing it.

“Students have absolute free speech and we don’t,” Adams said. “The district won’t defend us if a parent claims that we’re infringing on free speech.”


In one instance, he said, a parent claimed that a teacher had infringed on their child ‘s free speech by telling them not to misgender another student. Teachers also have had complaints filed against them over books they use in the classroom, he said, and one received a complaint from someone in California who had heard about the book challenges in the district on the national news, he said.

As a biology teacher, he has been nervous about some of his curriculum topics, such as reproduction, for fear that a student will go home and make an unjustified claim against him to a parent.

In addition, RSU 14 board member Jessica Bridges said at a recent meeting that teachers and staff have told her they “fear introducing books or topics because they worry they’ll be defamed on social media or things will be misconstrued.”

“Students think there’s no point in telling, and teachers feel like no one follows up on reports,” she said. “It feels like there’s hesitancy about taking a stance.”

“I hear from a lot of students that they feel like admin does nothing,” said Adams, but said he feels, “they’re kind of caught in the politics of this.”

School administration will get involved to the point of talking to a student who she reports for making harassing comments, McKenzie said, but she isn’t aware of concrete consequences that come from those talks.

Principal Ryan Caron did not respond to Lakes Region Weekly’s requests for comment.

“This is a national movement to disrupt public education and dismiss the rights of LGBTQ students, and kids will repeat what the adults are saying,” Trombley said. She said she sympathizes with the administration and the bind they are in, but “those of us in the buildings have to be honest about how it’s affecting everyone.”

This story was updated May 25 to clarify resident Ken Clark’s complaints.

Comments are not available on this story.