Regional School Unit 21 Superintendent Katie Hawes, right, speaks next to school board chairwoman Emily Kahn during a February meeting. Credit: Ralph Morang | York County Coast Star

KENNEBUNK, Maine — Regional School Unit 21 administrators on Thursday reported incidents of hate speech involving Middle School of the Kennebunks students, on the same day the RSU 21 Board of Directors issued a statement on diversity and inclusion in the wake of racism claims against the district.

“Over the past week, there have been a couple of instances of hate speech and specifically racial discrimination, involving students from the Middle School of the Kennebunks,” a letter from RSU 21 Superintendent Katie Hawes and MSK Principal Marty Bouchard states. “The incidents have involved hate speech via social media and on a school bus. In each case, the administration has swiftly and thoroughly responded to the issues that have been brought forward.”

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Hawes and Bouchard said staff are trained in best practices for prevention and response to such incidents.

“Hate speech and racial discrimination have no place in our school district or in our community and will not be tolerated. Please be assured, that we have specific policies and procedures we are following to ensure the safety of all students,” they said.

Administrators asked parents to monitor and ask questions about their child’s online activities, especially relating to social media accounts. They are urged to use the districts “Say Something” anonymous reporting system if they suspect anything, Hawes and Bouchard said, by downloading the “Say Something” app, visiting www.saysomething.net or calling 1-844-5-SAYNOW.

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The RSU 21 Board of Directors on Thursday issued a statement on diversity and inclusion, one of the steps the board has taken in the wake of racial incidents that led a former Kennebunk High School teacher to resign and file a race-based retaliation suit against the district.

“RSU 21′s objective is to be a welcoming and inclusive educational community. The safety and well-being of our students and staff is our primary concern and we condemn any behavior which is not in furtherance of this objective or which otherwise seeks to diminish or belittle any members of our community. Hate speech, intimidation, discrimination, and bigotry targeting any student or staff will not be tolerated in this district,” the statement reads.

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“As a community, we have become aware of instances where we have not lived up to this principle. This has created an opportunity for education, a time to remind ourselves that we, as a school community, stand for respect and inclusion. It has also reinforced our obligation to ensure that our schools are places where all are free to learn, teach and work in a safe and welcoming environment.”

The board’s statement comes one month after details of Rosa Slack’s race-based and whistleblower’s retaliation complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission against RSU 21 and KHS went public.

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In the complaint, Slack, a black woman, said she felt fearful for her family’s safety after a student threatened to burn her house down, was intimidated by another student who “harassed” her with the Confederate flag, and was not supported by the RSU 21 administration through the ordeal.

The RSU board earlier this month hired a lawyer to guide it through the process of an independent investigation into the district’s response to the events. Peter Lowe of the Lewiston-based law firm Brann & Isaacson will lead the board in developing a request for proposals and selecting and hiring an independent investigator.

“The selection process will be managed by a subcommittee of the board which includes two community members,” the board’s statement says.

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The board is also working with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium to begin a long-term “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Assessment Program.” “This program will include robust dialog and shared learning opportunities with and between students, staff, parents and guardians, community members, and stakeholders, with regular reports to the board and to the public as the program is implemented,” the board’s statement reads.

The district will be posting events, articles, and notices on RSU21.net under “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

“The RSU 21 Board of Directors is committed to supporting the actions described above and believes that they are necessary steps to meet the district’s objective of being a welcoming, safe and inclusive educational community,” the statement says.