KENNEBUNK — RSU 21 officials are investigating an incident of “hate speech” following the discovery of a social media posting involving students, while Kennebunk police confirmed they are investigating underage drinking related to the same event.
Acting Superintendent Phil Potenziano posted a letter to the community on the RSU 21 website and Facebook page Saturday stating, “I wanted to make you aware that an incident of disturbing student behavior recently occurred off school grounds and outside of the school day. A portion of the event was posted to social media and included language that I would characterize as hate speech. Because of the potential disruption that it may have in our schools — even during summer — I feel we have to respond and thus the administration has swiftly begun an investigation.”
Potenziano also stated police were notified of the incident.
Kennebunk Police Lt. Eric O’Brien said Monday that his department is investigating possible underage drinking related to the incident. O’Brien said the investigating officer is still conducting interviews, and it’s not known at this time whether charges will be filed.
Potenziano did not respond to a message Monday. Potenziano is serving as acting superintendent following Katie Hawes’ recent resignation to accept a teaching opportunity at the University of Southern Maine Graduate School.
He said in his notice that due to student confidentiality, he would not be providing further details.
The Portland Press Herald reported that a copy of a video was sent to the newspaper by a student who said it was taken at a party shortly after the end of the school year last week. According to the Press Herald, the video, saved from the social media app SnapChat, features two female students, one of whom can be heard repeating different variations of a common racial slur.
This comes just days after RSU 21 settled a race-based Maine Human Rights Commission complaint filed against the district and Kennebunk High School by former teacher Rosa Slack, who said she was retaliated against by school officials for raising concerns over racial incidents aimed at herself, a black woman, while she was a teacher at KHS.
According to the agreement, RSU 21 paid Slack $50,000 to settle the complaint — $40,000 to cover legal expenses and $10,000 in compensatory damages — and agreed to change her 2016-17 teacher evaluation to remove statements that Slack stated in her original complaint were made in retaliation for her speaking out about racial incidents at the high school.
RSU 21 has since launched an independent investigation into how district administrators handled Slack’s case. The district is also working with the Mid Atlantic Equity Consortium to begin a long-term diversity, equity and inclusion assessment program.
In his letter to the community, Potenziano said this recent incident “underscores the relevance and need for our ongoing work seeking change.”
“There are many champions within RSU 21 who are making a difference already and are committed to further changes. I, along with the school board, have stated we are unwavering in our commitment to institutional change and feel we have implemented an initial plan of action that demonstrates it. I have heard from some who want to go slower, and from those of you who want to see faster change. No matter where your commitment resides, I promise you the changes will be meaningful,” his letter stated.