The Maine School Administrative District 75 school board will have a special meeting Thursday, Sept. 16 to address members’ concerns about a questionnaire regarding students’ sexual activity and substance use.
Alison Hawkes and Eric Lusk, two of Harpswell’s four representatives to the board, were the most outspoken members with concerns about the questionnaire during the board’s regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9.
“When are we, as a board, going to say somebody gets fired?'” Lusk said.
Hawkes said that some parents “learned sexual things they did not even know as adults through their teenage kids.”
The district has a policy on student surveys that says, “No student shall be required to participate in a survey receiving funding under U.S. Department of Education programs” without parental consent if it involves information about certain subjects, including sexual “behavior or attitudes” and illegal behavior. Regardless of federal funding, the policy requires notice to parents, who may opt their children out of those surveys.
Lusk said that the administration had assured the board it would notify parents in response to prior concerns.
“I thought this got fixed,” Lusk said. “We were told it was going to be fixed and it’s happening again.”
Lusk also questioned the need for the survey and how the results would be used.
“What is the teacher doing with that information?” he said. “Why does the teacher need that information?”
Board Chair Holly J.P. Kopp, of Topsham, urged Lusk to wait for interim Superintendent Bob Lucy to complete a review of the matter. “It’s not the board’s job to fire employees,” she said. “Personnel issues must be dealt with through our administration.”
“I don’t think that everybody has all the actual information or facts about really what has occurred,” Kopp added.
Hawkes and Lusk pushed for an executive session, wanting Lucy to tell them more about his review behind closed doors.
“Our kids are being violated and that is our job to protect kids, period,” Hawkes said.
Lucy said he had learned about the questionnaire the previous day.
“I have spent a great majority of my last 24 hours reviewing this carefully, gathering information, talking to legal counsel, talking to other people, so I’m taking this seriously and I’m looking into this,” Lucy said.
“As a board member, I think we have the right to know what is going on in the district,” Hawkes said. “It’s crazy to think that we don’t.”
Lusk moved for an executive session, but Kopp said that the board could not enter executive session under a state law that restricts the conditions under which a public school board can meet in private. While a board can enter executive session to discuss a complaint about an employee, it must notify the employee and allow them to attend.
“I can guarantee you that if a policy was broken, if a law was broken, we will take ownership for that,” Kopp said. “Regardless of taking ownership for that, if we can do things better, even beyond our policies or our law, we will also do that.”
“But I want due process in how we do everything and this is not feeling like due process to me. This is feeling like trial by fire,” Kopp said.
To discuss a complaint against an individual “who has no sense that they’re going to be discussed or allegations are being brought against them — that is wrong,” Kopp said. “That is not OK.”
“I am going to make sure that we are not violating anybody’s rights and that we are sticking by our H.R. policies,” she added later.
When Lusk and Hawkes continued to protest, fellow Harpswell representative Frank Wright IV advised patience.
“We need to have a modicum of calm right now,” Wright said. “That is the only way we will move forward as a group to solve something like this. … I think we owe Bob the chance to finish his investigation.”
“Nobody’s listening, so calm time’s over,” she said.
The board agreed to have a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. the following Thursday. The meeting will take place in the forum at Mt. Ararat High School.
The superintendent’s office did not respond to an email or phone call from the Harpswell Anchor, or provide a copy of the questionnaire.
MSAD 75 serves the towns of Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham. The district’s 14-member board has six Topsham representatives, four Harpswell representatives, and two each from Bowdoin and Bowdoinham.
To watch the Sept. 9 meeting, click here.