The sun sets over Washington Academy in East Machias, Maine, on Nov. 9, 2020. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

An outside investigator looking into whether a noose was left in the Washington Academy classroom of a Latina teacher last year could not substantiate the allegation, according to an attorney representing the school.

Though the school could not verify that a noose was left intentionally in the teacher’s classroom, it has taken steps to address complaints about alleged racist or discriminatory incidents at the private East Machias school, Connor Schratz, a Portland attorney representing the school, said Monday.

A redacted excerpt of Bangor lawyer Sarah Newell’s report said the noose supposedly was tied in the pull cords of a classroom window shade in March 2020, shortly before Washington Academy shut down its campus due to the coronavirus pandemic. The teacher, who has since resigned, is not identified in the excerpt but is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Mexico, according to her family.

Schratz declined to release a full copy of Newell’s report, dated Oct. 16, 2020, because of “staff and student confidentiality concerns.”

At the time that the teacher found the knot, she untied it without knowing that noose knots are considered a racist and threatening symbol, the report said. Months later, after reading about another noose draped over power lines in Deer Isle in June, she reported it to Head of School Judson McBrine, who went to the classroom and took photos of the cords.

“The photographs of the cords do have loops tied, some of which resemble nooses but at least one other has several loops tied and [does] not look like a noose,” Newell wrote in the report. “While it appears that someone tied the strings, it is not clear they were purposely tied into nooses.”

The excerpt of Newell’s report does not spell out what the lawyer did to investigate the noose allegation beyond interviewing staff members and reviewing McBrine’s photos of the cords.

The now-former Washington Academy teacher, her husband and their daughters, who both graduated from the school in the past three years, say they have repeatedly complained to administrators and trustees at Washington Academy, though to no avail, about racist and discriminatory remarks that have been made at the school.

The teacher’s husband said last week that the investigation into the complaint was “shoddy, incomplete and very narrow” and that the resulting report “made the school look good and minimized the discrimination against my family.”

On Monday evening, he said that he and his family moved out of state last fall to get a new start away from the controversy surrounding their allegations against the school. He declined to say which state they moved to.

He said they spoke at length earlier Monday with a Maine assistant attorney general about whether their civil rights were violated, but he is not confident that anything more will be done to address the problem.

“At this point, we’re just exhausted,” he said. “We want positive change to happen.”

Despite the investigator’s findings about the alleged noose, the school hired Boston-based education consulting firm Carney Sandoe & Associates to conduct an “equity audit” and to provide diversity inclusion training to its staff, which began last fall. A teacher who recently posted critical comments on social media about the training requirement has been placed on leave, according to school administrators.

The diversity inclusion training is among several steps the school has taken to address diversity issues while it waits for the consulting firm to complete the equity audit and to make additional recommendations, Schratz said. The school also has appointed a director of diversity, created separate diversity committees for trustees and educators, and established a student civil rights team, he said.

Ten people from the school’s board of trustees, administration, counseling staff and faculty are participating in a yearlong cultural competence institute, Schratz added, while students and staff are engaged in school-wide diversity programming, and the school’s student Gay Straight Transgender Alliance continues to meet.

Last summer, a group of Washington County legislators asked the state attorney general’s office to look into the noose allegation. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office has not responded to requests for comment about the alleged noose incident.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....