Xavier Joslyn is now living with his grandmother, Lori Allen of Whitefield, following a recent confrontation at a Skowhegan school. Allen says there was a fight and people yelled profanities at Joslyn and a friend. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Skowhegan area school officials are investigating reports of a recent confrontation among students on school property that involved a fight and racist profanities.

Jon Moody, superintendent of School Administrative District 54, confirmed that officials “were made aware of an incident that occurred on school grounds early during school vacation week, one that potentially included racial bias.”

Local police told the Morning Sentinel they’re looking into the incident as well, which could trigger a civil rights violation inquiry by the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

In a social media video shared with the Morning Sentinel, several people are seen fighting on school property, near the bus garage at Margaret Chase Smith School in Skowhegan. One of the students in the video is Xavier Joslyn, 13, who is biracial and standing beside the altercation. In the video, the fight is between three individuals, including Joslyn’s friend, who are yelling profanities, including the N-word.

Joslyn’s family said in an interview that Xavier was with a friend from out of town heading toward the area of Coburn Park on April 20. When they passed the bus garage, the family says that the pair was approached by a group of students and a confrontation ensued. They say that the students attacked Joslyn’s friend, seen in the video, while Joslyn stood nearby.

In the days following the incident at the school, Joslyn’s grandmother, Lori Allen, took to Facebook to share the incident on community/neighborhood watch pages. She said that her posts received an overwhelming response and she has had hundreds reach out to offer their support.

“I posted on Facebook because that seems to spread fast,” Allen said in an interview. “I wanted to bring awareness to what is going on. All of the responses, everyone was positive. I received so much feedback.”

Xavier Joslyn is seen Friday near his grandmother’s home in Whitefield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

As a result of the incident, Joslyn’s father, Randy, has withdrawn his son from School Administrative District 54 and relocated his son with his grandmother in Whitefield. He is working to reenroll his son in the seventh grade at Whitefield Elementary School.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the spacing requirements that need to be met as well as accommodations that need to be made for Xavier, the transfer is taking a bit of time, Allen said. Both Xavier and Randy have been split up as Xavier stays with his grandmother and his father looks for a new place for the two of them to live.

For now, Allen says that her grandson has settled into his new home and is beginning to find his footing again. She also reported that Joslyn’s friend, who was involved in the physical altercation, is doing OK.

“Xavier is staying with me until his father can find a safe place to rent closer to us (in Whitefield), which is quite difficult,” Allen said. “He seems to be doing better out here; he is more relaxed.”

CIVIL RIGHTS QUESTIONS

When there’s an incident that may potentially involve a civil rights violation, the local police departments should be notified first, according to Leanne Robbin, assistant attorney general of Maine’s Criminal Division.

Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

Law enforcement officers in Maine are trained to identify and report to the AG’s office all potential civil rights cases. Robbin said that every law enforcement agency has a trained Civil Rights Officer, who reviews the complaint to see if it warrants review or injunctive action from the AG’s office. She added that cases typically go on to the district attorney’s office for criminal prosecution as civil rights crimes often involve criminal threatening, criminal mischief or assault.

Under the Maine Civil Rights Act,  a violation or indication of bias motivation is when “the perception of the victim or witness that the person, or person’s property, was selected because of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.” This includes written or spoken comments indicating a bias, where and when the incident happened, differences between the victim and perpetrator or involvement by an organized hate group.

Moody, the school superintendent, added that as with any incidents that occur outside of school hours, an investigation and follow-up with students is done, which includes the issuing of discipline “whenever appropriate.” He said that school administration reached out and reported what information they had to Skowhegan police.

Skowhegan Police Chief David Bucknam said he could not speak to the specifics of the ongoing investigation, but said that the department has “acquired some more information.”

“It’s still open right now,” Bucknam said. “Because of the nature of it, we want to make sure it’s wired tight before we move forward with any next steps on our end.”

While there is no prescribed deadline for police in deciding whether to recommend review by the attorney general’s office, Robbin said that in her experience “law enforcement agencies have been quite prompt at putting them together and getting them to us.”

OTHER MAINE COMPLAINTS

Robbin said that there have been certain frames of time when the AG’s office has seen an uptick in civil rights complaints.

She recalled the time surrounding the 2016 election, citing an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim conduct. The office also saw an uptick throughout the summer of 2020, when thousands around the country rallied together to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by ex-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white. Chauvin was found guilty recently on counts of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter.

She added that her office dealt with a case in 2017 at Casco Bay High School, when a group of students, four who were people of color, were verbally and physically attacked by a passerby. Jaime Lee Hoffman of Portland was found to have approached the group of students at a bus stop and began using racial profanities, including “epithets against people of Asian and Mexican origin.” A physical altercation ensued when the students tried to defend themselves.

Janet Mills, the current Maine governor who was the attorney general when the case was presented, ruled that Hoffman had “intentionally interfered with the victims’ rights to engage in lawful activities without being subject to physical force or violence or threats of physical violence,” based on Hoffman’s bias against the race of the students. The ruling, among other things, prohibits Hoffman from contact with the victims, under punishment of up to a $5,000 fine per violation.

FEELING SAFE

Allen, Joslyn’s grandmother, said that her family intended to contact the Attorney General’s office following the incident to see if they could pursue additional action. She added that an investigator from the Skowhegan Police Department had contacted her earlier this week about the incident.

Marc Malon, spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, added that the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Team Project provided an in-service training in 2019 titled, “Challenging Bias and Harassment in Our Schools,” for students at Skowhegan Area Middle School and Skowhegan Area High School.

“You hope at that age that through education you can prevent that conduct from happening,” Robbin said. “By the time an event happens, the damage is done.”

Moody, the school superintendent, said that in the most recent Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which polls students around school districts, MSAD 54 saw a 5.1% increase in students reporting “I feel safe at my school.” The district, which serves the towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan, also saw a 9.4% reduction in students reporting that they have been bullied in school over the past year and a 4.5% increase in students reporting that adults in school address conflict, negative language and bullying in a positive way to help students.

“Each of which were higher than the state average for schools across the state,” Moody said.

During the school day and before and after school hours, staff throughout the district have scheduled duty coverage to monitor the halls and other facilities occupied by students. In addition to staff coverage, administrators use cameras in all schools to monitor the buildings.

Moody added that “should anyone indicate they are experiencing any bullying, harassment, or any issues at school — have them call us.”

“I’m very earnest when I say we want all kids to come to school feeling safe and welcomed,” he said.

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