Councilor Stephanie Gelinas, right, speaks Tuesday night in favor of affirming a commitment to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion at the Lewiston City Council meeting. Seated from left are Councilors Rick Lachapelle, Laurier Pease and Lee Clement. The council discussion came in response to a controversial draft resolution penned by two councilors that condemned optional diversity programs for school department staff. The resolution in front of the council, written by Councilor Scott Harriman, states “as a City Council we must acknowledge, respect and learn from the lived experiences of all our constituents.” It lays out Lewiston’s previous work to address equity, including a citywide equity statement that was adopted by the council in 2021. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday on a resolution that “reaffirms” Lewiston’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The council discussion came a week after a draft resolution from Councilors Lee Clement and Rick Lachapelle was made public through a Sun Journal Freedom of Access Act request, prompting criticism of its content and ethical questions over how it was created.

Several members of the public, as well as three councilors and the mayor, spoke in favor of the resolution Tuesday, which was brought forward by Councilor Scott Harriman. Clement and Lachapelle did not comment on the resolution prior to voting in favor.

Harriman said his intent with the resolution was to “reset the conversation in a positive way,” and make sure all constituents know they’re “valued and respected.”

Councilor Linda Scott said “this day and age” officials need to double down on equity work, which she said is “necessary work not only for our city but in our schools.” She added that it felt especially necessary following the weekend shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, where 10 Black people were killed.

Councilor Stephanie Gelinas, who served on the city’s initial ad hoc committee for equity and diversity, said the resolution served as a reminder of the good work that’s been done in Lewiston over the past two years to address these issues.

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Members of the public who spoke Tuesday, including Josh Nagine, were also unanimous in support of the resolution. Nagine argued that Lewiston’s greatest strength is its diversity.

He also said in a written statement, “The full strength and depth of our community is not represented by the folks” serving on the council, and said the previous draft resolution from councilors shows “why (diversity, equity, inclusion) work is urgent and important for this city and its residents.”

The draft resolution from Clement and Lachapelle said Lewiston schools appear to be having discussions about “establishing curriculum” based on ideas from organizations like the Educators of Color Collective and Building Anti-Racist White Educators. It said the groups align with ideologies “that many believe are distilled from Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project and similar things which contain radical thinking.”

School officials said the programs are optional after-school affinity groups for teachers who have been active for two years, and that they are not part of curriculum building.

Superintendent Jake Langlais said critical race theory, which centers on the idea that racism is ingrained in U.S. social institutions and laws, which leads to different outcomes by race, is not a part of Lewiston schools’ approved student curriculum.

Both Clement and Lachapelle previously told the Sun Journal that they began work on the resolution after several constituents approached them with concerns about the “direction of the school system,” and that previous concerns raised to school officials were not addressed.

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Nagine said during his comments Tuesday that “it is not the council’s purview to ‘save the children’ from the School Committee or the ‘Boogeyman’ of CRT. If we care about the children, we could have increased funding for our recreation department.”

Lewiston residents Jason Lavoie, Aleks Diamond-Stanic, Andrea Breau, Tobin Williamson and Phoenix McLaughlin also spoke in favor of the resolution Tuesday night.

McLaughlin said Lewiston has often struggled in “fighting over its identity,” but said he settled in Lewiston because “few places have people from so many walks of life.”

He said officials can either build on strengths or “lean into conflict,” and said while Lewiston has made progress in committing to diversity, equity and inclusion work, that progress can be halted if groups of people feel unheard by institutions, including schools.

Harriman’s resolution listed several council actions since 2020, including the formation of an ad hoc committee on equity and diversity, as well as the subsequent adoption of a city equity statement, diversion, equity and inclusion “vision statement,” and diversion, equity and inclusion “mission statement.”

The equity statement, adopted in April 2021, begins by stating, “The City of Lewiston is committed to equity. Through intentional, continuous reflection and action, the City and our community systems — including education, employment, health care, housing, law enforcement, businesses and beyond — are dedicated to addressing and dismantling systems of inequity while working together to build resilient and accessible communities where people of all cultures and identities can thrive. We acknowledge that without an intentional focus on equity, we will continue to perpetuate and deepen inequality, injustice and harm.”

The city hired its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, a human resources position, in August 2021.

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