A school board member in RSU 21 took out a full-page ad in her local newspaper last week to announce she was stepping down, citing concerns that the district is too focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The resignation of Jameson Davis is the latest event in a tumultuous half-decade for the school district that serves Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Arundel. It also illustrates the growing politicization of local school boards across the country, much of which has focused on social issues driven by conservative groups.

Davis, who ran unopposed for the seat last year, declined to speak to the Portland Press Herald about her decision to step down two years before her term ends. In an email responding to an interview request, she said she already expressed her feelings and opinions in her resignation letter.

She is the fourth RSU 21 school board member to resign in two years. Last year, former school board member Ryan McQueen resigned after he came under fire for offensive posts on social media that targeted transgender people, people of color and women.

Prior to that, the district faced multiple allegations of racism in 2018-19, including one that resulted in a discrimination complaint and set the district on a yearslong path to improve equity, inclusion and conversations about race in the district – the very thing Davis railed against in her resignation letter.

In the letter published in the Kennebunk Post, Davis wrote that upon joining the board she had hoped she could change the direction of school board, but that in her time serving, she decided that wouldn’t be possible and chose instead to step down.


“As I’ve familiarized myself with the current policies and procedures of the district, it has become clear that the priorities of RSU 21 do not align with our family,” Davis wrote. “The district is more concerned with (diversity, equity and inclusion) than with traditional education.”

“My husband and I have no intention of sending our children to this district,” she added.

Davis’ resignation letter levies significant complaints against and criticisms of the school board, including that it is irrational, extreme, has overstepped its boundaries, has been disrespectful to her and other community members, and is generally moving in the wrong direction.

RSU 21 school board chair Erin Nadeau said that is not true.

“I don’t agree that the district is moving in the wrong direction,” she said.

Nadeau also said that “there has been no point in time where anyone has been treated disrespectfully in sharing their feedback and comments at any time as long as I’ve been on the board.”


She said she had hoped Davis would finish out her term on the board but that she can’t begrudge her for her personal choice to resign.

Schools and school boards have long been battlegrounds for hot-button political issues of the day. Whether to integrate, teach evolution or allow school prayer are just some of the major education battles that have been fought throughout history and throughout the country.

Davis’ resignation highlights the most recent trend of national politicization of school boards and education – an era that has been defined by fierce fights over how to handle topics of race, gender identity, sexuality and the rights of parents.

Her letter did not reference specific policies that triggered her decision to resign. But she did reference the “erosion of parental rights,” a concern from parents that has been closely tied to issues of what to do if a student wants to be identified as a different gender at school and their parents don’t know. She also wrote that the district is “bent on creating policies, implementing curriculum and procedures, and encouraging trainings and readings that chip away at the foundation of our society.”

Her comments reflect national conservative talking points about education – that schools are encroaching on the rights of parents by encouraging students to hide information, providing inappropriate information about gender and sexuality, teaching students to be anti-American, and failing to teach students basic math, history, science and reading skills because they are instead focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Across the country, school districts doubled down on their equity initiatives following the murder of George Floyd. But RSU 21’s focus on DEI started even earlier than that. Those efforts were part of a settlement agreement with Rosa Slack, a district high school social studies teacher who filed a complaint alleging she was retaliated against by the district for expressing concerns about two racist incidents. The school district agreed to work with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, an organization that helps educators improve dialogue around race, equity and inclusion, as part of a settlement deal with Slack.


The district has since continued to move forward with efforts to support marginalized groups. For example, a recently passed district policy regarding how to support transgender students drew masses of parents and students both in support of and against the policy. The policy outlines how the district should work with students who identify as a gender different than that assigned to them at birth.

Ohio State University professor Vladimir Kogan, an expert in education policy, said the current trend of politicization stands out because the same debates are happening in many different parts of the country. He said that’s likely because more people get their information via national rather than local news and because controversial national leaders have taken stances on education issues.

Finding space to agree is likely to be challenging because both liberals and conservatives believe the other side is using schools to push their agendas, so they’re both pushing back and escalating the situation, Kogan said.

“It’s not helpful when one side calls the other groomers and the other calls them transphobes,” he said. “They need to come up with some sort of peace treaty.”

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