AUGUSTA — School board member Chris Clarke has been very vocal about Augusta Public Schools’ mask policy, among other things, on social media.

Chris Clarke

Some of his recent Facebook posts, which were questioned at a recent meeting, may violate the school board’s Code of Ethics and Social Media agreement — a policy Clarke himself helped approve.

On both his personal and school board chairperson campaign Facebook pages, Clarke noted he didn’t agree with the district’s policy regarding coronavirus safety regulations — for which he voted in favor — and voiced his criticisms of the board and Gov. Janet Mills.

In a Nov. 2 Facebook post, Clarke wrote that he declined to sign a coronavirus permission slip that outlined the steps the district was taking and outlined rules such as wearing masks and keeping appropriate social distances.

He said that because he hadn’t signed the form his child had to walk home and wasn’t able to take the bus.

“The administration is out of control,” Clarke wrote on his campaign Facebook page Nov. 2. “The board has not approved or accepted this policy, it also violates students and parents rights… I will be taking action and words will be had Wednesday night at the school board meeting.”

He also wrote on his personal Facebook page, which he cross posted to his campaign page about the incident, saying that “there will be hell to pay,” and that the school system will “feel the wrath.”

Contrary to Clarke’s claim, the slip was part of the “Back to School Plan” the school board approved by a 7-0 vote Aug. 5. The coronavirus guidelines were necessary to ensure a safe return back to school, and Augusta’s rules align with other public schools in Maine according to framework by the Department of Education.

Clarke did raise his concern about the permission slip that required a parent or guardian to sign it, at the Nov. 4 school board meeting. He claimed students were receiving detention for not returning it signed at Cony Middle and High School.

The permission slip has guidelines in par with other schools in the area.

“Our goal is to minimize the risk of possible transmission of COVID-19 and safely bring back as many students as possible for an in-person school setting to maximize learning,” the permission slip states, adding that the rules were made in compliance with the federal Center for Disease Control as well as the State of Maine.

When Clarke attempted to bring up the permission slip and detention at the Nov. 4 School Board Meeting, Cony Middle and High School Principal Kim Silsby said that she had seen Clarke’s Facebook posts. She said she was “surprised that it wasn’t important” to Clarke.

After he spoke out against the coronavirus permission slip publicly on Facebook, Clarke said in an interview Friday, he received “20 phone calls and 10 Facebook messages” from parents claiming that their child received a detention for not returning the slip.

He said he would not have approved the permission slip in Augusta if he knew that his son was going to receive a detention for violating the mask mandate at the school in any way. His son, who has asthma, reportedly “got yelled at” for standing up and taking his mask off for a “second” in the lunch room.

“I approved the form, thinking it was a voluntary thing, whatever, but little did I know we were planning on disciplining students,” Clarke said. “I told my son to not serve the detention, and he went to get on the school bus, but he was told that he needed to serve the detention.

“When he asked to call me, he was told that he couldn’t,” he added. “So he had to walk home in the freezing cold.”

But only two students had to stay after school, according to Silsby.

“We are trying to enforce a policy that you guys (the board) wanted to have in order to keep students safe,” she said at the Nov. 4 meeting, in response to Clarke. “If families disagree and want to talk about it further, they should talk with us. We are thinking that we provided ample opportunity to pass it in and we are just trying to follow the policies that were put through (by the board).”

Clarke said Friday he feels that by signing the permission slip, he is giving away his son’s rights.

“On a personal level, I don’t agree with a mask being worn at all times,” he said. “If they are congregating in a hallway, sure, but I don’t think (it’s necessary) if children are socially distanced, sitting in a classroom six-feet apart.”

His most recent airing of grievances with regard to the school district isn’t the first time he has spoken out on social media while serving as a member of the school board. He was censured in June 2019 for sharing information from executive session on his Facebook page. At that time, Clarke also was asked to resign from the board, but declined to do so.

Clarke said Friday he disagrees with the board’s policy for members’ use of social media.

“The social media contract can kiss my ass,” he said. “As a board member, as with any politician, I have every right to discuss my opinion on public matters.

“As a citizen, I have every right to criticize the school district in any way necessary,” Clarke added. “I voted against the social media policy.”

However, records show that he did, in fact, vote for the social media contract at the Nov. 13, 2019, meeting, months after he was censured for his social media posts.

“I was assured that the policy was simply stating that the board members would not disclose information from executive sessions and was not saying that I could not post my thoughts or feelings,” Clarke said Friday about why he voted for it despite disagreeing. “After a lengthy discussion in the meeting, I chose to vote for it.”

School Board Chairperson Ed Hastings declined to comment on the situation, citing the school board’s code of ethics state that members can make “no disparaging” remarks about other members.

Amanda Olson, who will take over as chairperson in January, also did not comment about Clarke. She did speak about the importance of putting children first as a board member and being a leader in the community.

“We have an opportunity to use our positions as board members at this critical time to promote safety of all students by encouraging compliance with school policies and CDC guidance,” she said. “To do anything else places our students at risk and flies in the face of our very purpose: To put the kids first.”

While Cony has not yet reported any positive coronavirus cases, there have been each of Augusta’s four elementary schools. The most recent was reported at Lincoln Elementary School.

In addition to not disclosing information from executive session discussions, the social media policy, among many provisions, states board member should “avoid posting in anger, even when provoked” and “avoid posting information that is misleading or inaccurate or which has not been released to the public.” It also states board members should “refrain from harassing, defaming, or disparaging fellow Board members or others based on racial, religious, or other personal characteristics.”

On Oct. 7, after Gov. Janet Mills broadened an order required masks to be worn statewide, Clarke wrote a Facebook post disagreeing with it, and comparing her actions to those of Adolf Hitler.

He referred Gov. Mills using a curse word and claimed she “has no authority to make law or impose fines.”

“She is violating not only Maine’s constitution but the federal constitution,” Clarke wrote. “Those of you that don’t understand what she is doing…. take a look at hitler and the Holocaust.”

Clarke said Friday he believes that Oct. 7 post regarding Gov. Mills was taken out of context.

“I have plenty of Jewish friends,” he said. “It was referencing how the Holocaust started, and it started like this. A dictator took over and started dictating into hating a population.”

He said that he “means no harm” to the Jewish community in Augusta, but that the population has “hated him” since he voted against religious holiday exemptions.

“I respect everyone in the community, but they are my voters not people that I represent,” Clarke said. “I hope they understand that I don’t mean anything against them, just that Janet Mills is no better than Hitler.”

Clarke was elected to the school board as a write-in candidate in 2017, but did not seek reelection in November. His term expires in January 2021.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.