The longtime law firm for Kennebunk-based Regional School Unit 21 is ending its service to the district, in the latest fallout from a former teacher’s high-profile complaint of race-based retaliation and concerns about a lack of information given to school board members.

Drummond Woodsum, which has served as legal counsel for the district and its predecessor for more than four decades, submitted a letter withdrawing its services to the school board last week.

The firm is one of the largest and most prominent practicing education law in the state.

“It is with reluctance and sadness that we have come to the conclusion that we can no longer serve as legal counsel to the RSU,” the letter says. “While we are confident that we have provided and can continue to provide excellent legal service to the RSU, we believe that it would be best for all concerned for us to step away at this time.”

The letter follows a tumultuous year for RSU 21 that started after a Portland Press Herald article shed light on former teacher Rosa Slack’s complaint that she was retaliated against after reporting racist incidents at Kennebunk High School.

In June, the district settled a Maine Human Rights Commission complaint for $50,000 and agreed to amend Slack’s employee evaluation from two years ago.

The case has been expensive and generated questions in the community about how the district, which also includes Arundel and Kennebunkport, ended up in such a situation.

RSU 21 spent $203,954 with Drummond Woodsum and was more than $140,000 over its legal budget of $167,000 in 2018-2019.

“There’s been talk in the community and among board members questioning whether we are comfortable with our current legal representation,” RSU 21 school board Chairwoman Kendra Connor said. “I think Drummond Woodsum has served us well through some challenging situations and we’ve been happy with their services.

“There’s just thinking a new firm could bring a fresh perspective and some solid guidance in assessing where we are today and where we’re heading in the future.”

S. Campbell Badger, the attorney at Drummond Woodsum who sent the letter to Connor, declined to comment further, citing the confidential nature of attorney-client relationships.

Connor said in an interview the decision to withdraw services was made by the law firm.

She also said at a board meeting this week that the letter followed her notifying Drummond Woodsum to say the board was considering other options for counsel and had concerns about a certain attorney representing the district.

An independent investigation into the district’s handling of Slack’s complaint released in October details one board member’s dissatisfaction with how communication was handled and her push to make more information available.

Board members and attorneys are not named in the report. However, the report describes an email that “Board Member A” received from another board member in January 2018 warning her of “potential ethical code violations” around her “recent emails and demands.”

That email, from board member Maureen King, was shared publicly at an Oct. 23 school board meeting by John Costin, the husband of board member Rachel Phipps, who said his wife was retaliated against for pushing for more information to be shared.

“Running headlong against our attorney’s advice will not serve anyone well, and will likely get you as an individual, the board and/or the district into a pile of trouble which will serve no one,” King wrote.

“After 18 years of working with Drummond Woodsum I firmly believe they have always worked in the district’s best interest and will continue to do so.”

In an interview Friday, Phipps said the board lacked detailed information about the Rosa Slack case and board members had not seen a copy of Slack’s human rights complaint until after it was written about in the newspaper.

“We were flying blind,” she said. “There was information the board had gotten that was addressed to the board and should have come to us, but none of us ever saw a single piece of paper about that case until after Rosa went public.”

After the Press Herald reported on Slack’s complaint, Phipps voiced concerns about the legal representation, saying she believed the attorney had “acted unprofessionally to date” and she had lost “trust in (the attorney) to fairly represent our district and our board,” the report said.

The board then switched to a different Drummond Woodsum attorney and eventually approved the $50,000 settlement in June.

On Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to use the same firm that worked on the independent investigation, Brann & Isaacson, while considering how it will handle legal counsel in the future. At the meeting, other board members also expressed concerns about legal representation with Drummond Woodsum.

“I feel like we weren’t represented great at times,” board member Ira Camp said. “I think it’s pretty clear despite the pushing and despite requests for information, I don’t think we got good advice all the time.”

Drummond Woodsum’s withdrawal from the district is the latest departure to follow the Slack case. The superintendent at the time, Katy Hawes, left the job in June to take a position at the University of Southern Maine.

In September, Interim Superintendent Maryann Perry and then school board Chair MaryBeth Luce both stepped down after Luce admitted the board made mistakes when hiring Perry, who was the subject of financial mismanagement allegations in her last school district in Massachusetts.

In a letter to the community Friday, Interim Superintendent Phil Potenziano said he plans to bring to the board a plan for affirmative action training to ensure all future internal investigations are properly documented and reported to the appropriate individuals.

“There will always be room for growth in our culture and climate when students and staff experience racial insults, slurs, and/or other hate speech,” Potenziano said. “While I can’t go back and change what has happened, I will work to change the future, and that is what I’ve resolved to do.”

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