KENNEBUNK, Maine — The Regional School Unit 21 board of directors on Monday agreed to pay former Kennebunk High School teacher Rosa Slack $50,000 to settle a race-based retaliation complaint filed against the school district.
The board met in executive session with legal counsel last week to discuss terms of the settlement, and voted in open session June 17 to allow board Chair Emily Kahn to execute the agreement. Board member Rachel Phipps abstained from the vote, and Kendra Connor was the sole dissenting vote.
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Slack, a black woman, filed the race-based and whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission in January 2018 against RSU 21 and KHS. Slack has since left her position with the district, but filed the complaint while still employed at the school. She alleged she was retaliated against during her annual review process after she reported two race-based threats by students during the 2015-16 school year.
She said that fall, a student in one of her classes told an education technician he felt like burning Slack’s house down, and the district took no action other than removing the student from her class. In March 2016, Slack said a friend of that student walked into her history class with a Confederate flag draped over his back, the word “Redneck” written down the center of it, as another student filmed her reaction.
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The settlement awards Slack $40,000 to cover legal fees and $10,000 in compensatory damages and requires RSU 21 officials change her 2016-17 teacher evaluation to remove statements that Slack stated in the complaint were made in retaliation for her speaking out about racial incidents at the high school.
The language to be removed states: “Over the last two years, there have been several situations that have become emotionally charged and confrontational rather than collaborative” and “I have told Mrs. Slack that we are all committed to open conversations such that we can move forward in any situation in a proactive and collaborative manner.” Slack also requested the district change the scores on her evaluation to show an overall score of “Distinguished.”
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Slack’s attorney, Max Brooks, of the Johnson, Webbert & Young, confirmed Wednesday the complaint “has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of Rosa and RSU 21.”
In a statement sent through Brooks, Slack said: “The outpouring of support I’ve received from the community, including many current students at KHS, has been amazing. That gives me hope for the future.”
She added, “I am encouraged by the district’s decision to focus on working with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium and the Maine Intercultural Communications Consultants. I plan to cooperate fully with the district’s ongoing independent investigation concerning the issues I have raised, and I look forward to the implementation of the recommendations made by the expert consultants for the benefit of the entire community.”
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In a statement read following the board’s vote Monday, Kahn said, “The school board is pleased to announce that it has reached a mutually accepted resolution of the claim brought by Ms. Slack against the school district. The school board believes that an early resolution of this claim is in the best interest of the school district as it will enable the district to focus on its work with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium and the Maine Intercultural Communications Consultants, and the ongoing independent investigation.”
When the complaint came to light in February, the district held a special board meeting where students, former teachers, parents and community members called for answers, action and accountability from the RSU 21 superintendent and school board. The district has since launched an independent investigation into how district administrators handled Slack’s case. The settlement allows Slack to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
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Terms of the settlement state the district entered into a memorandum of understanding with the MAEC to begin a long-term diversity, equity and inclusion assessment program with regular reports to the board and the public. It also outlines that RSU 21 entered into an agreement with the MICC to work with the district on diversity, equity and inclusion goals.