The Portland School Board concluded the 2021-2022 school year by approving contingency funding in response to recent protests by middle school students.
Students at Lincoln and Lyman Moore middle schools held protests in May that were sanctioned by the School Department, where they criticized some peers and school staff.
School officials said data reviewed by the department after the fact aligned with the claims of discrimination and unfair treatment.
They said there were missteps leading up to the protests, although it was still unclear why staff responded the way they did, particularly at Lincoln. After the protests, two front-office staffers and the interim principal, Robyn Bailey, took leave for undisclosed reasons.
The School Department enlisted the help of Tim Wilson and Maine Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit that helps youth from different backgrounds understand and communicate with each other.
In its June 21 meeting, the board approved the use of $9,000 from the district’s contingency fund to pay for “youth leadership activity development.” Another $4,000 was allocated for administrative support at Lincoln.
That came a week after the three newest members of the board were sworn in: at-large representatives Sarah Lentz, 40, and Benjamin Grant, 44, who will serve six-month terms until the November election, District 5 representative Sarah Brydon, 43, who has a two-year term.
All three campaigned on their support for the School Department’s efforts to improve racial equity for students.
The board on June 14 also looked ahead at possible applications for its remaining $18 million in COVID-19 funding.
When discussing the budget process earlier this year, members discussed a “lagging process,” through which programs that didn’t make the approved budget would be considered for funding from these remaining funds.
Additional support for mental health services was discussed at length during the meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Melea Nalli said, “It goes without saying that in order to open our schools safely and successfully in the fall, we need to invest in the behavioral and mental health of our community – both our educators and our students.”
The proposal for fiscal year 2023 includes $150,000 for social and emotional learning support for educators and $300,000 for advisory tools and training to help educators better respond to scenarios like the middle school protests.
That figure includes the contract for Seeds of Peace and the development of skills like de-escalation for discriminatory scenarios, and to ensure that all parties involved in a conflict can get closure after the situation is resolved.