KENNEBUNK, Maine – A word came out of local teacher Heather Graham when she read the letter RSU 21 school board president Art LeBlanc sent to her in response to her recent complaint against a school board member .
LeBlanc sent the letter, with the full support of the school board, following an executive session on August 2 that focused on “complaints against one or more people,” according to the agenda.
“We recognize that it was not easy for you to discuss your perceptions with the respondent present in the room, even though state law requires that the accused person have the right to be present”, LeBlanc wrote. “The board sincerely appreciated that you wanted to meet with us and share your perceptions with us.”
The problem was Graham’s efforts to get the board to respond to her allegation that a school board member, Louis Braxton Jr., assumed she was racist when he spoke to his teenage son when they crossed paths at a local store last summer. Graham is white and Braxton is black.
“The Commission has carefully reviewed your version of events and the version shared by the Respondent,” LeBlanc wrote to Graham. “As you acknowledged during the executive session, the Council heard two rather different testimonies. Therefore, after careful deliberation, the Council was not able to substantiate the allegations and did not believe that ‘a vote of no confidence was an appropriate step for the Council to take. “
In the letter, LeBlanc acknowledged that this was not the outcome Graham had hoped for, but assured him that the council had heard his concerns “about the tone and content of communications in the community and (his) point of view on the importance of the code of the council of ethics. “
Graham responded to the letter on Sunday, August 8, telling the entire board that she did not anticipate the word “perception” to be part of the board’s response.
“I felt like I was on trial last Monday night,” she said, referring to the executive session.
Graham wrote that she left the session with a stomachache and could say the board would “do the wrong thing” and call for a vote of no confidence.
Braxton did not respond to requests for comment.
Where it all started
In an interview on Thursday, August 12, Graham said the whole situation stems from a letter she sent to the entire board in July 2020. In that letter, she urged the board to move on. ‘forward with grace, humility and understanding following his sadness. how the most recent meeting went and others over the last few years.
Without naming any particular school board member, Graham’s letter complained that some school board members tended to belittle and micromanage teachers and staff at RSU 21.
Graham later said his 18-year-old son told him he saw Braxton, whom he knows, at a local store. Graham said his son told him Braxton showed him the letter and suggested she must be racist for writing it.
“There isn’t a single name here,” Graham said, referring to his original letter. “If he feels it’s about him, then it’s his own thing.”
Graham said she felt the need to respond because she is a teacher in the district and Braxton is on the school board. So she called LeBlanc and found him receptive to her concerns. Graham said she told LeBlanc that she hoped to meet Braxton to understand why he would say this to his son.
“I firmly believe that if you sit down with someone and really talk to them, you can find things that you have in common… Mr. Braxton would not work with me,” she said.
Graham said his complaint did not accuse Braxton of doing anything illegal. It’s about intimidation, not defamation, she said.
Graham said she felt the situation had not reached resolution last summer.
YouTube video appears
The problem resurfaced, Graham said, after a pseudonymous YouTube user posted a five-minute video in late May with clips of Braxton attending RSU 21 school board meetings. The compilation calls into question the relevance of the behavior de Braxton at meetings.
Graham said she did not create the video, despite rumors to the contrary.
“If I had to make a video like this, I would have taken all the credit for it,” she said. “I am by no means an anonymous person. I don’t believe it.”
Graham said she reported the issue to her principal at Sea Road School and then spoke to Superintendent Teri Cooper, who said she would speak to LeBlanc and get back to him when she had the next steps. to be continued.
When the days passed and she hadn’t heard from Cooper, Graham said she emailed Cooper, LeBlanc and Braxton to see what the next steps should be.
Graham said she corresponded with LeBlanc in the days that followed, but did not receive a satisfactory response, so she decided to raise the issue in public at the school board meeting.
Graham attempted to voice his concerns about Braxton during the public comments segment of the July 19 board meeting. She said she was doing it because she felt the board had not adequately responded to her efforts to resolve the issue.
Citing policies and procedures for filing complaints, LeBlanc cut Graham’s comments short, but assured her that he was working to accommodate her request that they and other parties be able to meet. The executive session took place the following week.
“We took every opportunity and took the time to listen to hear the complaint,” said LeBlanc.
Cooper did not respond to requests for comment.
The Board of Directors acknowledges receipt of the letter
Graham closed her response to the school board on Sunday by saying she was concerned that one of its members “might not seem able” to follow the principles of “kindness, respect, listening to dissenting opinions and how to talk nicely with others.” . that she has spent her career teaching children.
On Thursday, LeBlanc acknowledged Graham’s decision to publicly share the letter from the executive session. As chairman of the board, he said privacy laws prevent him from publishing the letter.
The York County Coast Star requested the letter from LeBlanc and Graham.
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LeBlanc said the issue of communication was on the agenda for the school board meeting on Monday, August 16. Specifically, he said, the board will discuss its code of ethics and how students, RSU 21 employees and members of the public should raise concerns. and complaints to the board.
LeBlanc said he and the board were “working hard” on communications issues.
“It is important to me that Ms. Graham receives the respect she deserves and that school board members and community members receive all the respect they deserve,” he said.