KENNEBUNK – Regional School Unit 21 and Kennebunk Police are investigating a reported spate of race-based online social media posts, allegedly directed to a Kennebunk High School student by another student.

Screen shot photos of the posts appeared on Facebook on Saturday. In one of them, the writer appears to be responding to a third party in the conversation, and makes a racially charged threat.

The Kennebunk High School Civil Rights Team and Kennebunk, Arundel and Kennebunkport Community recently placed a sign at Kennebunk High School. Dan King photo

In an email, RSU 21 Interim Superintendent Phillip Potenziano said the district began an immediate investigation, and has contacted Kennebunk Police.

“RSU 21 takes any incident of hate speech and threatening language seriously,” said Potenziano. “This is deplorable and will not be tolerated in our communities.”

RSU 21 is a school district that includes Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

“On Saturday, April 4, it was brought to the attention of our administration that offensive and inappropriate, racist comments using derogatory terms about African Americans were posted on social media,” Potenziano wrote in a letter to parents. “Kennebunk High School and our district find the words used in these social media posts to be deplorable, and we strongly denounce the actions and words of the individual(s).”

“Let me assure you that administrators at Kennebunk High School have begun an investigation and will ensure it is done so in a thorough and expedient manner,” Potenziano continued. “However, our first actions, were to ensure that the student(s) involved were being supported. Supporting our students is paramount and we stand ready to provide support for any student who would like to talk to a school counselor.”

Kennebunk High School Principal Sue Cressey referred questions to the superintendent. In a message from the principal which appeared online on social media Saturday, Cressey urged parents to report any information to the district, and pointed out the district also uses the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System app.

“This incident does not represent who we are as a school or a community,” Cressey said in the message. “We want to thank all the members of the faculty, staff, student body and community who reached out to us (on Saturday). We must continue to remain vigilant and speak up when we see injustices.”

Police Chief Robert MacKenzie confirmed the matter is under investigation, but said he is unable to comment further.

Kurt Stentiford of the Kennebunk Inclusion Project, said he first saw the posts on Instagram.

It is unclear when the posts were initially written.

Stentiford has started an online petition at change.org, asking folks to sign a letter of solidarity to the family involved.

“We, as your community of friends, family, and neighbors, want you to know that you are not alone. We are sorry that about the horrible hate speech sent to your students,” the letter states, in part. “We want you to know that this behavior is unacceptable. The person or people who directed these comments towards you will not go without consequence.”

The Kennebunk Inclusion Project was formed by a number of individuals in June 2019 following prior race-based incidents in the community.

In December, the RSU 21 School Board tendered an apology to a former Kennebunk High School teacher Rosa Slack, for the way the district responded to complaints she had made about racially-motivated incidents that had taken place more than two years earlier.

“We are sorry that we, as a district, mishandled Ms. Slack’s harassment complaint and that she was retaliated against for speaking up,” the apology letter stated. The letter also acknowledged an anonymous student who spoke up about race-based harassment, and called the two “profiles in courage, who stood up and did the right thing for the greater good,” according to a Portland Press Herald story.

Potenziano, who was named Interim Superintendent in September 2019, said RSU 21 takes the issue seriously, and strives to ensure a welcoming, inclusive and safe environment for all students, staff and community members.

“We recognize that harm has been done to students of color who saw the post(s),” Potenziano wrote to parents. “Additional efforts must be made to repair the damage from this situation, and the district and Kennebunk High School administration and faculty will continue working to ensure that our school community provides a safe and inviting environment void of these types of despicable words and actions.”

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