The Bangor School Department has replaced the outside investigator it hired last spring to probe incidents of racism Black students experienced during their time at Bangor High School.
A Black woman will now conduct the investigation, after students who described their experiences with racism at the predominantly white school in a June Bangor Daily News article, along with a Bangor city councilor, asked for an investigator with similar life experiences to their own.
Krystal Williams, an attorney at the Portland firm Bernstein Shur, will lead the investigation, according to school department documents and interim Superintendent Kathy Harris-Smedberg. She replaced Rebekah Smith, an attorney at Seven Tree Solutions whom the school department hired in June.
Former Superintendent Betsy Webb ordered the outside probe in response to a June 23 BDN article, headlined “Racism is my high school experience.” In that article, four Black students at Bangor High said white students had called them the N-word and defended slavery and white supremacy in class discussions. Another said classmates told her multiple times to “go back where I came from.” Students said they reported their experiences to teachers and administrators, only to be told they couldn’t do anything and that they should take matters into their own hands.
Harris-Smedberg did not say whether the investigation has begun.
The Bangor School Committee changed investigators during an Aug. 13 executive session, after two of the students, Amara Ifeji and Ijeoma Obi, pushed for the change in meetings with Webb. Bangor’s only Black city councilor, Angela Okafor, joined the students in their efforts.
“Having someone who has lived experiences will mean the person will understand certain things that someone who hasn’t lived such experiences won’t,” Okafor said.
The school department had agreed to pay Smith $220 per hour. It has agreed to pay $250 per hour each to Williams and Amber Attalia, who will assist with the investigation, according to copies of the investigators’ contracts, which the BDN requested.
The investigators will present their findings to the Bangor School Department, and some of the results will be made public, Webb said in June. Williams will not recommend a remedy or reach any legal conclusions, according to her contact.
In addition to investigating the incidents detailed in the BDN article, Williams will look other incidents of racial discrimination at the high school since 2016.