DIXFIELD — The Regional School Unit 56 board of directors voted 8-2 Tuesday to support a diversity, equity and inclusion statement prepared by the district’s Anti-Racism Committee.

The statement, which is copied from the last two paragraphs of a joint statement on equity from the Maine Department of Education and Maine Superintendents Association, as well as other Maine organizations, states, in part: “We believe all students in all families and all human beings deserve to be celebrated, included and heard, and we are committed to supporting our schools and educators in taking on the challenge of examining and changing our practices.”

Voting for the measure were Chairwoman Barbara Chow, Vice Chairman Bruce Ross, Angela Varnum and Larry Whittington, all of Dixfield; Angela Cushman of Peru; Carl Lueders and Natalie Sneller, both of Canton; and Don Whittemore of Carthage.

Voting against were Brad Dyer of Carthage and Joe Brissette of Peru.

Samantha Noyes of Dixfield and Konstantin Aslanidi of Peru were absent.

T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School Principal Jason Long presented the Anti-Racism Committee’s proposal and detailed its work since last spring.

“There are parts of the full joint statement (from the MDOE and others) that might get some people hung up,” he said, but the goal of the committee “is to build consensus and support for doing this (equity) work, not to make anybody feel like we’re shoving anything down anybody’s throat but to do this work together and to do it right.”

“The mission of RSU 56 is to prepare our students to become purpose-filled, skilled members of the local and global communities,” Long said. The Anti-Racism Committee and other district committees “are committed to preparing our students to be successful members of the global community.”

Cushman said the committee’s work is “probably one of the best things that I feel like I’ve been a part of as a school board member.” She said she has a grandchild, and her daughter was “really happy that there were children of all races in her day care,” and her child would grow up not realizing “that there was any difference among children.”

Dyer said there may be some problems with the statement.

RSU 56 Superintendent Pam Doyen is proposing replacing the scoreboard at Dirigo High School in Dixfield, including it in the 2020-21 budget. Estimates range from $5,000 to $12,000 and the district would likely opt for a board in the $5,000 to $6,000 range, she said. Trent Holman photo

“Children generally don’t care about color … (but) bullying is everywhere … my concern is we spend time in ad nauseum talking about race and color. There is one race, humanity, period,” he said.

“The more time we spend railing about it,” Dyer said, “the more time the school spends thinking it has to be the one to solve the problem, the worse it’s gonna get. It’s never, ever going to be beaten back. Maybe what we ought to do is just try to teach our kids character, hold them to that character, and not spend all of our time talking about color.”

Brissette said the diversity and inclusion statement was “kind of painted with a broad brush and it seems to me that it’s a statement to make a statement … and it doesn’t really define much of anything.”

Long responded, “The sheer absence of a statement is a statement, and I don’t think it’s a statement consisting of the values of this board.”

In other business, directors heard presentations for the 2021-22 budget from Dirigo Elementary Principal Charlie Swan, Long and Superintendent and Dirigo High School Principal Pam Doyen.

Doyen’s presentation included two new proposals.

“One is to replace the scoreboard on the high school baseball field,” she said. “This has come up a couple of times. It’s in pretty bad shape and it does need to be updated.”

Estimates range from $5,000 to $12,000, she said, and the district would likely opt for a board in the $5,000 to $6,000 range.

Doyen’s other budget proposal is to reinstate the student math team.

“This math experience could really provide an outlet for students who are interested in other co- and extracurriculars,” she said. “It supports problem-solving, teamwork and overall math growth.”

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