About 200 Lincoln Middle School students protest after walking out of class on Friday morning, May 13, 2022. Students were protesting what they said was a lack of response by administrators and teachers to homophobia, Islamophobia and racism in their school. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Embattled Lincoln Middle School Principal Robyn Bailey is taking a leave of absence starting immediately, Portland School Superintendent Xavier Botana announced in a letter addressed to students and their families on Monday.

The move comes after hundreds of students walked out of class on Friday protesting what they said was their principal and teachers’ lack of response to ongoing incidents of racism, Islamophobia, transphobia and homophobia at their school.

A similar, though smaller, walk out, also took place across town at Lyman Moore Middle School.

Bailey had served as an interim principal since August and was due to step down on June 30, at the end of the school year.

During the protest at Lincoln on Friday, students said they’d heard teachers use the n-word and call a Black student a monkey.

In his letter, Botana said Bailey requested the leave. Botana also promised to schedule a community meeting to discuss students’ concerns and how to respond to them.

“I hope you will stay engaged and involved in our efforts to make Lincoln a welcoming and safe place for every student regardless of their race, national origin, gender or sexual identity,” Botana said.

One student who helped organize last week’s protest said Bailey’s departure was an encouraging sign.

“It’s very relieving,” said the boy, who didn’t want to be identified, “and pretty cool, actually, that people are finally paying attention to what’s going on at Lincoln.”

Last fall, Bailey publicly apologized after making racially prejudiced comments about newly elected, Black city commissioners.

“I owe many people an apology,” Bailey wrote in October. “I regret that my words were not more thoughtful and that I didn’t reach out personally to discuss my concerns.”

In an email sent to City Hall two days after the June 8 election, Bailey had lashed out at newly elected progressives, singling out two women of color for “spreading hatred” and arguing that they’d be “done, gone and trashed” if they were white.

In her fall apology letter, Bailey lamented that she “undermined the success of those women” and that her comments worsened a political discourse she already saw as divisive.

In his letter, Botana said he’d given his blessing to Friday’s protest. Believing civic engagement and student voices are both important, Botana had signed off on a plan to give students one hour to have their say. However, he acknowledged some mistakes were made. 

“Families were not notified until late in the day that students had overstayed the allotted protest time, and some students were prevented from re-entering the building after the protest time was up,” Botana said. “Some students were erroneously told that they would be suspended for their participation in the protest. I apologize for our poor execution on the advertised plan.”

Botana also warned that no further student protests would be tolerated and those taking part in them during school hours would be subject to “corresponding consequences.”

Messages left for a school department spokesperson and at the superintendent’s office were not immediately returned.

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.