March 23, 2019
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Maine GOP rips Portland schools chief for pushing ‘political’ agenda on students

BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
The central offices of Portland Public Schools on Cumberland Avenue can be seen in this May 2016 file photo.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Republican Party is accusing the head of Portland’s school system of using public resources to force his “partisan agenda” on students and teachers after the superintendent penned a letter decrying an alleged hate crime against several high school students that the party says was too political.

The Maine GOP says it is filing a public records request for Xavier Botana’s written communications, which the party suggests will reveal “outside and internal forces” that may be influencing his “political agenda,” it said in a statement.

Last week, a Portland man allegedly yelled racial slurs at a group of black Casco Bay High School students, assaulted two students who came to their defense and brandished a screwdriver. Portland Police announced his arrest Friday afternoon.

Jamie Hoffman faces charges of interfering with constitutional and civil rights, assault and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. Police also referred the case to the Maine attorney general.

In a letter denouncing the alleged attack, which happened the day that President Donald Trump issued an order temporarily barring resident of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, Botana noted the “noxious environment in which this deplorable event took place.”

Trump’s rhetoric around building a wall along the Mexican border and banning Muslims from the U.S. is a “radical and disturbing departure from the principles on which this country was built and which so many have fought to protect and extend,” Botana, a Cuban immigrant, went on to write in the letter.

The state GOP said in a statement that it has received “numerous complaints” about this language, including some from employees of Portland Public Schools.

On Friday, Deering High School students in a class studying human rights organized a rally in solidarity with their classmates at Casco Bay.

The state GOP suggested that Botana’s “political agenda” had influenced students and teachers in Maine most diverse and left-leaning city. Party Executive Director Jason Savage said that the show of solidarity shouldn’t have be organized during school hours.

“Students who do not participate during school hours can be singled out for their political beliefs,” said Savage. “School is supposed to be an environment where people feel safe and and free to learn and express different thoughts and ideas.

Botana did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Portland board of education member Sarah Thompson declined to comment.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, a Democrat, said he supports Botana’s statement and called the GOP’s announcement an attempt to “stifle the free speech rights of Portland students.”



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