ROCKPORT, Maine — The Five-Town Community School District Board rejected a request Wednesday night to allow a memorial service to be held at the school for a well-known community member, an action that has prompted a debate over the original school policy.
Superintendent Elaine Nutter said the decision was an agonizing one for the board but was based on several factors including being consistent, since no memorial services have been allowed at the Strom Auditorium at Camden Hills Regional High School for five years.
The vote by the board came after the administration at the high school had rejected the use of the auditorium for a memorial service for Ken Bailey, who died Tuesday. Bailey, 62, had served Camden and the region in numerous positions including selectman, firefighter, police officer, lake warden, recreation director and newspaper editor.
The board voted 5-3 to uphold the administration’s decision not to allow the auditorium to be used. The five members who voted to uphold the policy were Marcia Dietrich of Rockport, Eliza Haselton of Rockport, Robert Lawson of Camden, Tori Manzi of Camden and Gretchen Richards of Rockport. The three members voting to allow the service to be held were Matthew Dailey of Camden, Elizabeth Borch of Hope and Edmund Hartt of Lincolnville. Bill Hibbard of Camden abstained from the vote and Jim McKenna of Appleton was absent.
The decision not to allow memorial services was made, Nutter said, about five years ago when outside experts advised school administrators that the school needs to be a “safe and neutral” place for students. She said following a series of suicides, school administrators decided that having memorial services for students at the school would not be in the best interest of the other students. That prohibition extended to all memorial services.
Since then, she said there have been other requests to use the auditorium for memorial services — including one request last summer by the family of a Camden Hills student who died in a car crash — but they all have been rejected.
The board’s decision, the superintendent said, was based on the argument that if they made an exception this time it would send an unintended message to people who have been refused previously and make it difficult if not impossible to refuse future requests.
Nutter said the board made it clear that it has the utmost respect for Bailey and all he has done for the community.
Parker Laite, a longtime friend of Bailey, said he was disappointed by the board’s decision, not just for his friend but for the overall community.
“The community raised $6 million to $7 million so the auditorium could hold 800 not just 400 people,” Laite said.
He said the goal was to have an auditorium where community events, not just school events, could be held. Laite said he believes memorial services should be allowed if they are held outside of school hours and do not conflict with other events.
An early version of this story incorrectly named Patty Libby as a CSD school board member instead of Robert Lawson. Libby is a member of SAD 28’s school board.