School board members to face recall election in Maine for supporting controversial gender identity policy

The fate of two school board members in Maine will be on the ballot after they signaled support for a controversial policy parents say would keep them in the dark about their own children’s gender…

The fate of two school board members in Maine will be on the ballot after they signaled support for a controversial policy parents say would keep them in the dark about their own children’s gender identity.

Julia Lester and Sarah Otterson, members of the Oxford Hills School Board in Paris, Maine, will face a recall election after about 700 concerned community members signed a petition requesting their removal, according to a report by WMTW News 8, the local ABC News affiliate.

The policy purports to “(1) foster a learning environment that is safe and free from discrimination, harassment and bullying; and (2) assist in the educational and social integration of all gender identities, including but not limited to cisgender, transgender and gender expansive students in our schools. …

“All students have a right to privacy. This includes the right to keep private one’s gender identity or gender nonconforming presentation at school. In some cases, a student may want school staff and students to know their gender identity, and in other cases the student may not want this information to be widely known.” 

At particular issue for recall leader Armand Norton and many others who signed the petition is a passage that reads, “in the case of a student who has not yet informed their parent(s)/guardian(s), the administrator shall first discuss parent/guardian involvement with the student to avoid inadvertently putting the student at risk.” 

“Parents are the first line of defense if something happens to the kid,” Norton said in response as he presented the petition at a Nov. 21 emergency meeting of the Paris Select Board, which is the town council. “The parents are responsible for them, not the school.” 

Board members Lester and Otterson are “promoting policies interfering with a parent’s right to know,” Norton also reportedly wrote on the cover sheet of the recall petition. 

“As part of the development of the student’s plan,” the proposed policy goes on to state, “the discussion shall include what information may be shared, to whom the information may be shared, and how the information shall be shared. … School staff shall keep in mind that under FERPA, student records may only be accessed and disclosed to parents/guardians and to staff with a legitimate educational interest in the information.” 

The policy also would allow students to use facilities that “closely match their gender identity; this includes but is not limited to: the restroom, locker room, shower facilities, and any other facilities when students may be separated by gender.” 

WMTW previously reported the Oxford Hill School district held a public forum in late October to allow the community to voice their opinion on the matter, at which most speakers were opposed to the new policy for infringing on parental rights.

“A 7-year-old can choose to hide their gender identity from their parents or legal guardian and the teachers, the staff, administration, coaches, they will be bound to keep this information secret,” warned parent Charity Johnson.

“Our schools should not essentially be promoting children to live a double life, one where they are one person at school and another at home, which can be mentally and emotionally taxing,” added parent Terry Brooks. “Instead, we should be working with families to help and support children with their mental and emotional well-being.”

Those in support of the policy argued it was necessary in order to create a safe space for students whose parents do not support their gender identity.

“Two people on the board [were] promoting policies that interfered with a parent’s right to know. Us parents have had enough. That policy promoted secrecy,” Norton told the Paris Select Board. 

Ultimately, the Paris Select Board voted 4 to 1 to accept the recall petition and allow voters to decide the school board members’ futures. The recall election is expected in January or February. 

Paris Select board member Scott McElravy spoke out against the policy before casting his vote in favor of accepting the petition. 

“I don’t want boys to be able to go into the girl’s room, and vice versa, and I have nothing against anybody who wants to live a certain lifestyle, I just don’t care, but I’d be worried if my grandchild was there, my little granddaughter and boys could go into the bathroom,” McElravy said. 

The vote was not without controversy, as Town Manager Dawn Noyes expressed concerns about whether the town council has authority to initiate a recall for the school district, since the district is a separate entity that serves multiple communities.  

“If it is a law and it needs to be changed, maybe the town of South Paris is going to be the town to start changing things,” Norton said, standing up for the parents and community members who signed the petition.