A superintendent in Maine apologized Tuesday after receiving backlash from students for a memo telling staff to not display any “controversial” phrases including “Black Lives Matter” ahead of the election.
Scarborough Public Schools District officials sent an email to staff on Monday reminding them not to wear clothing or display items with political or controversial phrases in the week leading up to Election Day. It listed campaign slogans from the Trump/Pence and Biden/Harris campaigns as examples, as well as the messages “White Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter.”
In response, a group of Scarborough High School students staged a protest on Tuesday outside the town municipal building before school started. They held signs with messages like “Racism Is Still Taking Lives” and “Why Is Demanding Equality Controversial.”
“You can’t choose what race you are,” senior Mia Goulder, who was at the protest, told CNN affiliate WMTW. “You can choose your opinion on certain political stances, but because it is about someone’s race, that doesn’t make it political.”
Krystal Ash-Cuthbert, president of the Scarborough Education Association, told CNN that the union had also heard from teachers and staff, who were concerned about Monday’s memo.
Scarborough Superintendent Sanford J. Prince IV apologized in a public statement on Tuesday, saying the district needs “to better educate and equip ourselves to have these conversations.”
“As I now reflect on a communication that was shared by our curriculum director to staff yesterday, I understand that the reference to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was offensive to many people who read the memo,” Prince wrote. “Please know that inclusion of that phrase was not at all intended to be a statement to make any member of the community feel less valued in any way and we are deeply apologetic for that.”
Prince told CNN that the students who protested were very respectful. He applauded them for their passion and for taking a stand.
“That’s what we really want our students to do,” he said, “and what we want to teach them that when they feel passionate about something, they can get motivated and bring about change.”
The school system has a policy on how to handle controversial issues in the classroom “in an atmosphere that promotes learning and respect for the beliefs of others.”
The policy states that students should be exposed to different or opposing sides of an issue so they can form there own opinions.
“Educators shall not use the classroom as a forum to advance their personal views or proselytize,” according to the policy, “but are not prohibited from expressing their own views for legitimate pedagogical purposes.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mia Goulder’s last name.