The South Portland School Department’s diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator is leaving the district, and possibly the state, after receiving a racist email.

Mohammed Albehadli’s last day will be Friday, Superintendent Timothy Matheney said in an email sent to the district.

South Portland Superintendent Timothy Matheney Courtesy of Timothy Matheney

Matheney refused to provide a copy of the email Albehadli received but shared two quotes from the message.

“White parents don’t want their children going to school with black and brown kids who don’t belong in the United States,” one part of the email said. “White people in Maine don’t appreciate what you (Albehadli) are trying to do in (South) Portland.”

In the message to staff, Matheney called it “the most vile email” he had seen in his 35 years as an educator.

The superintendent said the email was sent on Dec. 29 from “a resident of a neighboring state.”


In a brief phone interview Thursday, Albehadli said that he and his family became concerned about their safety and are considering leaving the state.

“This event has been distressing to me and my family,” he said.

The district has informed faculty, parents and high school students of the incident. In return, it has received dozens of messages of support, Matheney said.

He expects there will be many conversations to come about how to deal with the hate expressed in the message and how to move forward in a constructive way, he said.

Efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion have been contentious for as long as they’ve been around, including during the recent DEI push that followed the murder of George Floyd by police in 2020. In the year following Floyd’s murder, job postings with DEI in the title increased by 92%, according to the jobs site Indeed. But at the same time, backlash against DEI initiatives grew.

Some states banned DEI in K-12 schools and universities. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that colleges can’t explicitly consider race in the admissions process. And some experts expect corporate diversity initiatives to meet the same fate.


However, the South Portland School Department has pushed ahead in its endeavors to increase equity and inclusion.

Its most recent major initiative is to reconfigure its elementary schools – three of which are significantly whiter and wealthier, and have more primary English speakers than the other two. The effort has been met with significant pushback from community members.

Albehadli was the district’s first DEI coordinator and had worked there for about a year helping the district grow inclusion and reduce opportunity and achievement gaps. Matheney said they worked together closely.

“I know what a quality human being he is,” Matheney said.

Matheney was angry, sad and “fundamentally floored” by the hate the email contained.

“I think this is a reality check for all of us that hatred and racism is in our region and in our very midst, and we need to continue to work on ensuring a safe place for all our families regardless of their race, ethnicity or other differences,” Matheney said.



School Board Chair Jennifer Ryan echoed Matheney’s sentiments, saying the best way for the community to move forward is for members to support one another and continue the work Albehadli was doing to make the district inclusive and welcoming to everyone.

“We will continue that work and not allow the vocal minority to deter us from our long-term goals,” Ryan said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations asked federal and state law enforcement to investigate the email as a possible hate crime.

“Growing attacks on American Muslims and other communities in our diverse society must be repudiated,” said Robert McCaw, the council’s government affairs director.

“We urge local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate this troubling incident to determine whether it rose to the level of a crime.”

The email is being investigated by South Portland police and the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office.

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