Left, the front cover of the 2020-21 yearbook for Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris included political imagery and messages. Right, a Facebook image that advertised the yearbook does not show political messages that showed up on the yearbook cover. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat and Facebook image

PARIS — Parents of an Oxford Hills Middle School student attended School Administrative District 17’s board of directors meeting to call attention to the 2020-21 yearbook cover, which shows political imagery and messages.

“It might be a little uncomfortable for the board but I need to let you know … it’s in regards to the yearbook at the middle school and its political messaging,” Kevin McAllister said. “The yearbook historically celebrates the year in school. To me it’s been encapsulated within the school. To have stuff that’s politically a hotbed, it seems a little over the top.

“I know it’s offended a lot of people” he said. “I feel disappointed in it. I wanted a good representation of my child and his year in school but instead we have this … a lot of people in town don’t see it as positive.

“I would ask that in the future that people … be sensitive to other people and to keep it neutral,” he said. “Make it the celebration that it’s supposed to be. The community is out there watching.”

The student’s mother, Sarah McAllister, circulated a copy of the yearbook, along with how the online advertising for it was presented, for directors to see. She pointed out that the ad did not include any of the messages.

Director Bob Jewell of Paris asked what oversight process is in place for review before yearbooks are sent for publishing.

“Someone in administration should have seen this well before it was published,” Jewell said. “What is the process and how do we know that what is going out there is something that this board would want to see out there?”

In just her first board meeting since being named superintendent, Monica Henson said she could not answer the question immediately but concurred that in her previous school systems anything issued by the district — yearbooks, student newspapers or staff newsletters — had to be reviewed first, and yearbook cover art would be included in that.

Director Will Rolfe of West Paris said it seemed more than a coincidence that the advertising for the yearbook did not include the most controversial part.

Board Chairwoman Diana Olsen of Otisfield thanked the parents for coming to the board and pointed out that directors hear comments made by the public at meetings but cannot discuss them or act on anything that is not on the agenda.

In her superintendent’s update, Henson reported on her progress for the objectives set for her entry plan to the district, including steps for increasing student achievement, improving public trust and increasing organizational efficiency. To that end she wrote that she has received administrative briefings from district leaders, reviewed the District Management Group’s assessment and recommendations for SAD 17’s practices and distributed a comprehensive organizational chart.

The Boston organization assists school districts with surveys, assessments and recommendations.

Henson also told the board that she will speak at an Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce event in August and is working to schedule appearances to introduce herself to the boards of selectmen at each of the district’s eight towns.

In other business, directors unanimously elected Natalie Andrews of West Paris as chairwoman for the next year and Jared Cash of Norway as vice chairman.

Olsen and outgoing Vice Chairman Curtis Cole of Norway did not seek reelection. Both received standing ovations for their service to and leadership of the board over the past three years.

Directors also elected Scott Buffington of Paris to the Finance Committee. He will join returning Directors Lew Williams of Hebron, Sarah Otterson of Paris, Jewell and Andrews. Debra Hertell, executive assistant to the administration, was reappointed as the voter registration clerk for district meetings.

Vicki Decker was approved to become Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s assistant principal, joining Tara Pelletier who recently transferred from the same position at the middle school. Michael Mayberry was approved as food service director, transferring over from the Facilities Department where he served as assistant director.


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