PORTLAND, Maine — City middle school students walked out of class Friday morning, protesting their principal and teachers’ lack of response to ongoing incidents of racism, Islamophobia, transphobia and homophobia at their schools.
About 200 students at Lincoln Middle School walked out Friday morning. One of the city’s other middle school, Lyman Moore, also had a walk out to protest ongoing discrimination on Friday, school officials said.
A parent watching the protest at Lyman Moore estimated the group to be between 50 and 75 students.
Last fall, Lincoln Middle School Principal Robyn Bailey publicly apologized after making racially prejudiced comments about newly elected city commissioners.
But students at Lincoln on Friday said that wasn’t enough and that a culture of intolerance was pervasive at their school both amongst students and staff when they walked out at 8:35 a.m.
“Our school is racist and nobody is doing anything about it,” said Elizabeth Luka, 14, a Lincoln eighth-grader.
Several students said they heard the n-word on a regular basis in the halls.
“A teacher even said the n-word,” said eighth-grader Lattecia Cole, 13. “We told him he couldn’t say that.”
Another student said a teacher had told them not to speak Spanish because they were “in America.”
“One teacher called a Black student a monkey,” said Jack Brogan, an eighth-grade organizer of the walkout.
Students chanted “Black lives matter,” “Asian lives matter,” “Love is love” and “Muslim lives matter.” Passing cars, including two school buses, honked in support.
Some students wore kafiya scarves, a traditional Arab scarf, in solidarity with classmates. Others marched around the school, fists raised in defiance.
Lincoln faculty members attempted to keep protestors on school grounds, off the sidewalks and out of the street.
“I love school but not the way they treat us,” said Bahn Alkinani, a Lincoln eighth grader. “Most students here cry multiple times every week.”
Bailey gave Lincoln students one hour to protest but instructed them not to record video or take pictures of their actions. Students not back in the building by 9:25 a.m. were subject to punishment.
“We’re prepared to get a detention,” Brogan said.
When their time was up, about half of the protestors declined to go back inside and were asked to leave school property. About 50 then marched off down Stevens Avenue, returning — for more protesting — about an hour later.
Parent Tucker Daniels stood on the sidewalk across from the school and said his seventh-grader was in the protest. Daniels agreed there were problems with racism, transphobia and homophobia at the school.
“There’s been so much turmoil this year,” Daniels said. “Teachers must take this seriously.”
Andrea Dudley’s seventh-grader daughter took part in the protest at Lyman Moore. Dudley said she’s heard repeated reports from her daughter about bullying at school based on race and gender.
“The students are pissed,” Dudley said. “They said teachers were brushing them aside or worse, taking the bully’s side.”
Dudley was impressed by the middle schoolers’ high level of organization.
“They set up a massive group chat and came up with this,” she said. “I dropped off my fourth grader next door and then watched some of the speeches. Protest mom is the new soccer mom.”
Portland School Superintendent Xavier Botana was not available for an interview on Friday but released a statement. Botana did not address any specific student complaints.
“School leaders will continue to engage with these students to more fully understand their concerns and to interrupt the systemic patterns that prevent all students from feeling safe connected and belonging in their schools,” he said.
Calls to the middle school offices were not immediately returned.