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Public Hearing on Free Speech, Hate Speech, Safe Haven Resolutions

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Public Hearing on Free Speech, Hate Speech, Safe Haven Resolutions
Posted on 03/06/2017
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The Board of Public Education will start its Tuesday, March 7, meeting with a public hearing on three proposed board resolutions: one affirming district employees’ free speech rights; one condemning hate speech and expressing support for the district’s Muslim students; and one affirming the district’s commitment to making the Portland Public Schools a safe haven for students and families.

The public hearing will begin at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. The board’s business meeting, at which the board is slated to vote on the resolutions, will immediately follow the public hearing.

School Board member Jenna Vendil proposed the resolutions to the board following a Jan. 27 racially motivated hate crime incident against some Casco Bay High School students at a public bus stop near the school. The board held a Feb. 21 workshop on the resolutions and then held a first reading on the proposals on Feb. 28.

The Portland Public Schools, which serves approximately 6,800 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, is Maine’s largest and most diverse school district. Vendil said the resolutions are necessary to reaffirm the district’s commitment to providing a safe and supportive educational environment where all students can learn.

“These resolutions are needed to assure our students and families that the Portland Public Schools is committed to ensuring student safety, the free speech of employees and the privacy of immigrant families,” Vendil said.

School board Chair Anna Trevorrow said, “These resolutions matter to students who are living in fear in this political climate. The resolutions are an avenue to take a stand and put the Portland Public Schools’ values on the table for all to know and understand.”

Resolutions express the board’s sentiment but don’t have the force of policy or rules. If the resolutions are approved, the superintendent will work with legal counsel and staff to identify any new policies, rules or programs that should be developed based on the resolutions or any existing policies or rules that might need to be changed. The three resolutions all have been reviewed by the district’s legal counsel.

“These resolutions are incredibly important,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “They not only reaffirm the Portland Public Schools’ commitment to providing students, families and employees with a safe physical and emotional school environment that fosters academic achievement, but they also create meaningful opportunities to engage around the issues the resolutions address.”

The school board Resolution Affirming Employee Speech Rights says the school board “recognizes the importance of participation by school employees in public debate over local, state and national policy and civic issues, commends our staff for its past advocacy, and encourages school staff to continue speaking out for public school students and public education in a way that is consistent with their duties as educators, federal and state law and Portland Board of Public Education policy.”

The school board Resolution Condemning Violence and Hate Speech, Expressing Support for Our Muslim Students notes that the families of approximately 850 students in the district come from countries that are predominantly Muslim. It also notes that “Arab and Muslim Americans, and those perceived as Muslims, are frequently the targets of abusive and discriminatory practices.”

The resolution decries hate speech and violence against all students, saying it “condemns all hateful speech and violent action directed at Muslims, those perceived as Muslims, immigrants, people of color, and members of all protected classes.”

The school board Resolution Affirming its Commitment to the Education of All Children & Making Portland Public Schools a Safe Haven for Students and Families stresses that the district is committed to following a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling saying that no public school district can deny students an education based on their immigration status.

The resolution states: “The Board declares Portland Public Schools to be a safe haven for students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination, to the fullest extent permitted by law.”

The meeting agenda and packet, including the resolutions and supporting documents, is available on the school district’s website or by clicking HERE