Alexa Allen, left, and Earl Couture discuss civil rights and equality in Regional School Unit 56 schools Tuesday evening on the football field at Dirigo High School in Dixfield as Karolyn Buotte listens. The community forum drew more than a dozen people, some of whom shared their personal experiences. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

DIXFIELD — A community forum to discuss equality and civil rights in Regional School Unit 56 schools drew more than a dozen people Tuesday night to the football field at Dirigo High School where some shared their personal stories around those topics.

The intention was to bring together “many different perspectives to study and discuss the culture and atmosphere in the Dirigo schools when it comes to civil rights and equality,” facilitator and T.W. Kelly Middle School Principal Jason Long said.

The forum follows a ‘culture and climate survey’ sent to students and staff in January asking them how often, in a typical year, do they “hear a student make an inappropriate comment and or ‘joke’ involving racial background, gender identity, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, religion or disability.”

Slightly more than 46% of staff said it occurred monthly, while slightly more than 44% of students in grades 7 through 12 agreed they hear such comments and jokes.

Asked if they thought students “already do a good job valuing multiple perspectives and diversity,” slightly more than 28% of students agreed; a little more than 35% said the situation “needs improvement” and the rest said they were unsure or did not answer the question.

During small-group discussions Tuesday, Alexa Allen, a 2008 graduate of Dirigo High School, said she was harassed by upperclassmen for being biracial but chose to “brush it off” at times when teachers tried to intervene. She said she didn’t want to single herself out even more. When nothing was done after she reported the harassment she said she ignored the negative situations.

Karolyn Buotte, a district teacher, said students have “a very difficult time having difficult conversations or having conversations about race, because they feel uncomfortable talking about (these subjects). They feel like they’re going to say something wrong.

“And I feel like (school) should be a safe place where we can have those conversations and can learn not be defensive, or, you know, offensive in attacking (others),” Buotte said.

Long asked participants to share some highlights from their conversations.

Jason Long, principal of T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School, leads a community forum on civil rights and equality Tuesday night on the Dirigo High School football field in Dixfield. More than a dozen people attended. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

Superintendent and Dirigo High School Principal Pam Doyen said her group talked about the truth in the statement “when you know better you do better.”

Danielle Williams said during a board of directors meeting last spring when there were conversations about civil rights and equality, she wished there “had been a little bit more diversity in opinions when we broke out into groups (to discuss equality). Because I think it would be super beneficial if we could have more conversations with folks who think this isn’t a big deal and get more to a place of understanding why some people believe that it’s not, because I’m going to be honest, I can’t wrap my head around why it wouldn’t be,” she said.

Ami Greco said that later in her life her mother was accepting when Greco told her she was in a relationship with a woman. She said her mother was worried about “how people will treat (me).”

Lorna Hutchinson said her hope is that their discussions and the district Civil Rights and Equality Committee will “see us treat each other with respect.”

“Together we can do so much more” Rachel Buck, an educator in the district, said.

Many participants agreed with Doyen and Buck, who said they want students to feel that school is a safe place and that “somebody is going to help them” if they need it.

Formation of the Civil Rights and Equality Committee was approved by the board in June. It will report its recommendations to the board, Long said.

Residents of RSU 56 in Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru who are interested in joining the committee may contact Doyen at [email protected]

Danielle Williams, left, Jay Nicholson, Barbara Chow and Kristin Arsenault, right, discuss civil rights and equality Tuesday night at a community forum on the football field at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times


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