Two Lewiston councilors’ draft resolution on diversity programs causes backlash, concern – Lewiston Sun Journal

two-lewiston-councilors’-draft-resolution-on-diversity-programs-causes-backlash,-concern-–-lewiston-sun-journal

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Screenshot from Tuesday’s Lewiston City Council meeting, moments after former Councilor Luke Jensen asked the Council to investigate the process that two councilors followed to draft a resolve on diversity and learning.
LEWISTON — Earlier this year, when a debate over how racism is discussed in schools raged across the nation, two city councilors worked with city administration to draft a resolution condemning diversity programs for staff at Lewiston schools, one of the most diverse districts in the state. That draft resolution was recently revealed through a Freedom of Access Act request filed with the city by the Sun Journal.
The councilors planned to keep the resolution confidential until they could suspend City Council rules to introduce a vote on it — giving fellow councilors minutes to read and consider it — but declined to move forward after administration and the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion director disapproved of the resolution.
When staff attempted to edit the resolution to “temper the visible implicit bias,” the councilors could not agree on the language, and opted to drop it until after budget season.
Several councilors and the mayor said they didn’t know about the proposed resolution or the back and forth with staff until the Sun Journal submitted an FOAA request and said if they had, they would have been outraged not only due to the content of the resolution but the way in which it was created.
Lewiston City Council Resolve by sunjournal on Scribd

The resolution, called “A resolve to promote parental rights and denounce certain teachings in Lewiston Public Schools,” says that Lewiston schools appear to be having discussions about “establishing curriculum” based on ideas from organizations including the Educators of Color Collective and Building Anti-Racist White Educators, which the superintendent of schools says is inaccurate.
The resolution penned by Council President Lee Clement and Councilor Rick Lachapelle states the groups align with ideologies “that many believe are distilled from Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project and similar things which contain radical thinking” that the councilors believe “are counterproductive and have no place in the City of Lewiston or Lewiston Public Schools.”
Both organizations are optional after-school affinity groups for teachers that have been active for two years, Superintendent Jake Langlais said.
“We use state standards and we have a curriculum subcommittee of the School Committee that explicitly goes through our curriculum,” Langlais said. “These groups are not part of that work.”
Critical race theory centers on the idea that racism is ingrained in U.S. social institutions, laws, regulations, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race, according to the Brookings Institute.
Critical race theory is not a part of Lewiston schools’ approved student curriculum, Langlais said.
The proposed resolution also requests that a “Parents Bill of Rights” be enacted “so that parents are notified when controversial subjects such as sex education are to be taught,” and “a summary of curriculum be regularly reviewed and publicly disseminated.”
Mayor Carl Sheline said when he finally read the proposed resolution he was “disheartened.”
“This deeply troubling resolution is election-year nonsense,” he said. “Instead of focusing on the city’s business and moving Lewiston forward, we have councilors who continue to insist on wasting time developing divisive partisan statements that only hold us back.”
‘BEHIND THE SCENES’
The email correspondence obtained by the Sun Journal shows a process that played out between Clement, Lachapelle and city administration while the city was already embroiled in a deep debate over a moratorium on homeless shelters.
For a number of days leading up to March 15, when the council was set to meet regarding the contentious moratorium, drafts of the resolution, first referred to as “LSC and CRT,” were sent back and forth between Clement and Lachapelle.
At one point, Clement told Lachapelle that the plan would be to suspend the rules twice on March 15 to introduce two items. One, which they followed through on, was to appoint former Councilor Michael Marcotte to an open Planning Board seat, a move that was also met with criticism from several councilors.
On March 14, the night before the council meeting, Clement sent what he referred to as close to a “final draft” to city administration, asking that it be reviewed and finalized by the following day, so it could “be put in final official form and held in confidence until such time as it is allowed to be moved under suspension of the rules. It would be then that we ask copies be disseminated to council members and mayor just prior to discussion commencing.”
On the day of the meeting, City Administrator Heather Hunter responded to Clement that after the administrative team reread the resolution, they had “significant concerns with some of the sentiments noted and the overarching impact on the city. Might I suggest you hold off with its presentation tonight and I can have the team take a stab at a new proposal that loops in your concerns with a more politically correct tone.”
During the March 15 meeting, Clement motioned to suspend the rules to make the Planning Board appointment, surprising other councilors who were not familiar with the candidate and who had not been notified that he would be brought forward for appointment.
In the days following, unrelated to the still-unreleased draft resolution, several councilors shared concerns about transparency and the council’s use of suspending the rules, which included a Sun Journal guest column by Councilor Scott Harriman. He said the council had previously agreed to “avoid surprises” and “share information in advance,” and said he was concerned that a group of councilors was coordinating “behind the scenes.”
Councilors Clement and Lachapelle, joined by Councilors Robert McCarthy and Larry Pease, had previously voted down Sheline’s nomination of Leigh Albert for the Planning Board seat, and were silent as to why.
In an earlier message to Lachapelle’s personal email, Clement laid out the plan, stating, “Let the matter come up, make no comment whatsoever and vote Albert down; and continue to do so if (Sheline) puts her up until he appoints (Marcotte) to a position with some significance.”
In the email, Clement said “(Ward 2) is in agreement, I will contact (Ward 5) prior to the meeting or at least any vote.”
In an email to the council the following day, Councilor Stephanie Gelinas referred to the March 15 meeting as “a circus.”
“You won’t find me on social media posting anything (or reading anything for that matter), but I have no problem sharing directly with my fellow councilors that the level of respect I previously held no longer exists,” she said.
Following Harriman’s column, Clement sent an email to Councilor McCarthy that was inadvertently sent to all elected officials. He said, “We need to emphasize the rules and ‘protocols’ that Harriman spouts are not what he thinks. If we don’t get some moderation from the left then we just tell them, no matter what they try they’ll have to overcome a majority vote and their BS is only (going to) stiffen our resolve.”
On March 21, Hunter sent Clement and Lachapelle a revised draft of the resolution to consider. The next day, Hunter forwarded a response from Melissa Hue, director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
In her letter, which was only sent to Clement and Lachapelle but addressed to the City Council, Hue said the resolution “would not only (incite) division but also disheartenment.”
“The increase in racial tension nationwide, in addition to the institution of education being used for political tactics, makes the resolve even more concerning,” she said. “As a person that has lived through discrimination by words and actions, I cannot in good faith stand behind this narrative for feelings of discomfort.”
According to Clement, the draft resolution was written in response to concerns by community members regarding what they perceived as “undesirable situations” in Lewiston schools.
“Things that were voiced were of great concern and, in at least two cases, I was advised that these concerns were voiced to the School Committee without any action,” he said in an email this week.
Lachapelle said that during his campaign, he was approached by teachers, former teachers and parents.
“They all had concerns with the direction of the school system and the potential harm issues just like this will bring to our children,” he said.
In the letter, Hue later asks whether the councilors have heard concerns “from those in the wards that can speak on the horrid stories of the discrimination in the schools.”
“Parents Black and brown homeschooling their children out of fear of discrimination. Parents who do not feel you represent them, silent because they see no other way. Are you enraged for their lived experience or only for the discomfort of those who have access to you?” she asked.
“I have watched every Tuesday as you all navigate difficult topics with discernment and diplomacy but in this case, the same grace is not offered,” she said to the councilors. “The decision to be reactionary stems from important, valuable constituents who look like you, identify with you and share like minds but none of which have challenged you with a different perspective.”
Hue’s memo also suggested that the council urge the School Committee to adopt an updated diversity, equity and inclusion policy and code of conduct, which she said is “a way to hold employees accountable to non-discriminatory behavior and uphold civility.”
The memo was forwarded to the two councilors from Hunter, who suggested the code of conduct could be “an agreeable solution.” According to Hunter, the policy is scheduled to be discussed during the June 21 council meeting as part of the city’s recognition of Juneteenth as a municipal holiday.
Lachapelle, the first to respond, requested that the resolution not be brought before the council on April 5.
“Let’s hold everything off until after budget season,” he said. “While I have respect for (Director) Hue we also differ on a few matters. I (also wonder) if Director Hue has the ability to look at all points of view?”
Clement then responded that after talking with Lachapelle and reviewing his response, he concurred.
Hue was hired in August 2021 after the position of DEI director was added in the city budget — one of the main recommendations resulting from former Mayor Mark Cayer’s ad hoc committee on equity and diversity, which was formed in 2020.

ETHICAL CONCERNS
Councilor Linda Scott, who is also the council’s representative to the School Committee, confirmed this week that she and other councilors had not seen the draft resolution or the response from Hue until the FOAA request was made.
Scott said that after reading the resolution and the response, she “immediately reached out to Director Hue and expressed that I did not support this resolution, and I also emailed all my fellow councilors to state that I could never in good conscience support such a resolution.”
Sheline said there were rumors that a resolution on the topic was being drafted, but said it wasn’t until a FOAA request that the administration decided to share the documents with the rest of the council.
Former councilor Luke Jensen, who conducted his own FOAA request, spoke during a City Council public comment period Tuesday, telling officials that there should be an investigation into the matter.
He said while he was not surprised by the resolution given today’s political climate, he saw the behind-the-scenes process as “unnerving” and raising several “red flags,” including the question of how often it is occurring regarding other issues. He said if he was a sitting councilor, he would be “furious” if he found out that administration had agreed to keep something from the entire body until it could be introduced under a suspension of rules.
“I can’t imagine as a councilor asking staff to work on something directly, and then asking staff not to tell the other councilors or the mayor. We should know that that’s wrong,” he told officials Tuesday. “When you put in writing that you plan to blindside people at the last second, your fellow councilors. Is that ethical?”
Jensen said he realizes what has occurred is likely not illegal, but said elected officials should be held to higher standards.
“You guys were elected to do the people’s business in front of the people, and in a city of 40,000 people, that’s not such a large expectation,” he told them.
Screenshot of former Lewiston city Councilor Luke Jensen who spoke for three minutes during the public comment period of Tuesday’s council meeting to voice his concerns about a resolve that had been drafted by two city councilors.
When asked this week, Clement said “nothing that was done in this instance was illegal or underhanded although some would have you think so.”
Referring to the use of suspending the rules, he said, “It has been done before and under our rules of governance it is an allowable process.”
In an email to a constituent following Harriman’s column, Clement said, “When the other side performed in similar ways it was always OK, not so much now.”
Clement then forwarded the constituent email to McCarthy and Lachapelle, stating, “I send this to two only (sic) as I certainly wouldn’t want to invoke Harriman’s rath (sic) by communicating with a quorum, my boots won’t stand any more trembling.”
In his experience, Clement said this week, “it is not uncommon for an individual or group to work on a project and only bring it forward when it is presumed ready for discussion or presentation. It is also not uncommon for a larger group to collaborate in similar fashion.”
Clement said the resolution was never “finalized” and “never arrived at a point where introduction was to occur,” but the email correspondence shows it was several hours away from being introduced, and was only halted after administration voiced concern.
Clement refutes that there was any “illegal coordination” with a quorum of councilors, and said, “to my knowledge this has not happened.”
None of the emails show Clement working on the resolution with anyone but Lachapelle.
He also said there have been internal council discussions about the issue since.
“As a body, the matter has been thoroughly discussed by councilors and while I cannot divulge the nature of any discussions, I’m confident that an understanding has been reached,” he said.
Lachapelle said this week that there are established rules for what councilors “can and cannot do regarding meeting and city business behind the scenes.”
“None of those rules were at any time broken in the discussions regarding the potential resolve,” he said. “Any insinuation of such by fellow councilors of feigned outrage promoted by political rivals is nothing more than noise.”
He also said he takes “great pride in the amount of time and preparation I put into this job,” and that his work to represent Ward 4 “does not begin at 6 p.m. every other Tuesday and end when the meeting is adjourned.”
When asked if it’s common practice for city administrators to work with a single councilor or small group of councilors to draft language without informing the rest of the council, Hunter responded, “It’s not unusual to vet a topic and address questions as the item reaches a form that gets presented to the entire body by that individual councilor or group of elected officials.”
When asked if administration typically agrees to do so in a situation where a councilor plans to suspend the rules to introduce it, Hunter simply said, “The councilor was asked by administration to not proceed with the resolve.”
Hunter said that after receiving the resolution, administration asked Hue to review it.
Sheline believes the entire process put city administration in a “needlessly difficult position.”
“The demand for secrecy created a horrible situation,” he said. “For a group of councilors to prepare a resolution in secret … it reveals a total disregard for their fellow elected officials, city staff, and the public process.”
SUPERINTENDENT SUPPORTS PROGRAMS
In the resolution, Clement said councilors recognize and acknowledge that the School Committee is the “controlling, deliberative body” of the Lewiston school district, but said, “We also recognize that we are responsible to ALL residents and taxpayers and that authority is spelled out in the fact that the council has bottom line control of the school budget.”
“In this instance our intent was to draft a document that would present the School Committee with the concerns we had heard and had learned about,” it read.
Several councilors have conversed with school officials who share the same concerns, he added.
Langlais said he was not aware of the resolution until recently, but maintained that school officials and city councilors have a “very healthy, productive relationship.”
“I don’t hear about this memo and get upset or worried about things, because we’ve had such a good relationship that we’ve built over time,” Langlais said.
Still, he said he was perplexed that city councilors would create a resolution related to school affairs.
“The School Committee does not in fact answer to the other branches (of city government) if you will,” Langlais said. “The School Committee are elected officials also, and so the City Council does not provide oversight to the School Committee other than the local tax.”
He voiced support for the two staff organizations named in the resolution.
“(Building Anti-Racist White Educators is) built off the idea that it is certainly possible that there are racist things that happen in our society,” Langlais said. “And so, the idea behind BARWE is if educators were really aware of things that can be full of race and bias, we could have some intentionality about (addressing it).”
Lewiston’s BARWE chapter doesn’t necessarily adopt everything on the website of the national organization, he said.
The proposed resolution states that the Educators of Color Collective “proposes forming a group for ‘educators to discuss and share truth openly,’ and which excludes white educators.” Lachapelle suggested that he sees that exclusion as racism itself.
Langlais said the EOCC has “helped us retain people who feel supported, like they do have a place they can go.”
“From an employee wellness and retention perspective, we have found that educators of color often find themselves feeling a bit isolated, and like they have no one else to talk to because of their lived experience,” Langlais said.
Langlais has attended meetings for both groups in the past.
The resolution also takes issue with the mission statement of BARWE and says its use of the term “white supremacy” “seems to say that all white people agree they are a superior race and will fight to keep it that way.”
The resolution states, “utmost care must be taken as we advance in our desire to treat all equally not to introduce ideologies into our schools that leave innocent children feeling shamed or judged for the prejudices and actions of some that have come before them and that happen to share the same color of skin.”
“I do think equity is a journey,” Langlais said. “I don’t think there’s space in it for guilt, that’s my opinion. But I also think that it would be important for people to realize that bias plays such a big role in our lives, and there’s things that we do that we don’t even realize that could be system identifiers … That’s why I love the affinity groups, because you get to learn in these spaces.”
In November 2021, when some states were moving to ban discussions on racism from classrooms and educational training, a Brookings analysis said, “Scholars and activists who discuss CRT are not arguing that white people living now are to blame for what people did in the past. They are saying that white people living now have a moral responsibility to do something about how racism still impacts all of our lives today.”
Sheline said the resolution “reflects abject ignorance and a complete lack of understanding,” and said it only further “highlights the need for continued training and education to fight prejudice and racism in our schools and city.”
Clement said the issues involved “invoke great passion among individuals on all sides of the issues” and the “only intent was to craft a vessel that would carry concerns to the persons responsible for setting policy.”
“The issues here are much the same as those being discussed in all areas of the country. Lewiston is no different than any other community,” he said.
According to 2021 figures, Lewiston is the second most diverse school district in the state with 47% of students identifying as something other than white, just 2 percentage points behind the Portland school district.

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