Immigrants and minority students face steady harassment and discrimination in Maine schools, according to over 100 students, parents and educators interviewed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

“These experiences are way more pervasive than we like to think,” said the report’s author, ACLU of Maine senior researcher Emma Findlen LeBlanc.

“Everyone knows there is some hostility. But imagine every day, being called a terrorist. Every day, being afraid to go the bathroom. That’s an experience that’s hard for most of us to understand.”

The report focuses on immigrant students, but notes that there is similar discrimination and exclusion for students in other marginalized groups, such as minorities, students with disabilities or from low-income families, or students of different sexual orientations.

“Many students of color face a constant barrage of bullying, as well as unwelcoming school cultures,” LeBlanc wrote. “Muslim students described other students pushing them in the hallways, calling them terrorists, and trying to pull off their headscarves. Students of color described white students telling them to ‘go back to Mexico’ or threatening to have them deported. One black student described students she didn’t know reaching out and tugging her hair as she walked through school hallways. Hateful speech, including racial epithets and derogatory terms for immigrants and sexual minorities, is common.”

Statewide, about 10 percent of students identify as not white, but in some communities, the number is much higher. Longley Elementary School in Lewiston is now 75.5 percent non-white, and Riverton Elementary School in Portland is 62 percent non-white.

The organization has posted a list of resources for parents and educators, along with a FAQ, on its website at It includes advice on what to do if your child faces harassment, a sample letter to administrators and how to file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

LeBlanc said several teachers wanted to learn what other districts were doing to help immigrant students facing discrimination, and the report will be used as a tool to help others. The report highlights various efforts districts have taken to address discrimination.

“We don’t want this to be the end of the conversation,” she said. “We offer this as a tool.”

The report also notes that some actions by coaches, bus drivers and others in authority are illegal – such as students being told they couldn’t play soccer unless they removed their headscarves, or girls told they couldn’t join a swim team if they wore leggings.

“These aren’t wants. These are rights,” LeBlanc said.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said the report “highlights issues that are certainly familiar to everybody in Portland.” The district has adopted new programs to aid immigrant students and provide training to staff and faculty.

“These are clearly things we’ve prioritized and we need to continue to develop,” Botana said.

LeBlanc said the report also was intended to note that discrimination isn’t just “severe” cases or singular events, but the daily harassment some students face.

One of the most publicized events in Portland occurred in January, when four black ninth-graders at Casco Bay High School reported that an older white teenager made racist remarks to them and brandished a knife.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday he would share the report with district employees and school board members.

“Some of the recommendations are already in place in Lewiston schools, some are in progress and others have not yet been implemented,” Webster said. “I welcome the opportunity to use some of the resources provided by the ACLU and look forward to ongoing improvements in the educational experience for students of color.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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