SKOWHEGAN — Two women with minority children enrolled in Skowhegan-area schools say there were several instances over the last school year when the children returned home reporting they were subjected to racist taunts or other mistreatment from classmates.

The women, Sade Ellis and Erica Corson, said in each instance they contacted school officials to complain but were disappointed by an administrative response that they felt was ineffective.

“Racism happens every single year with all of my kids,” said Ellis, the mother of three biracial children.

Their children attend schools in Maine School Administrative District 54, a district serving Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

It got so bad for Ellis’ 9-year-old son that he decided to stay home last month for the last three days of the school year after Ellis said he was called the N-word.

Her 14-year-old daughter, meanwhile, was participating in a baseball activity in May when a boy hit a ball, looked at the girl and said, “I hit dingers and hate (N-word),” Ellis said. Her daughter also was subjected to lewd remarks, she said.


The complaints lodged by the two women echo similar concerns expressed in recent months by minority parents with children in the Waterville school district and also Fairfield-based MSAD 49. The parents have spoken publicly about their frustration with what they see as a lackluster response by school leaders.

In one instance, a Waterville parent in May told the Board of Education that her daughter, who is Black, “was not treated with the dignity and respect she should have been afforded,” adding that her child “has struggled to be safe” at school.

But administrators with MSAD 54 and other districts contend that every complaint of racism, or of bullying or harassment, is taken seriously and involves a multilayered approach that can include outside agencies like the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Although school officials will not publicly comment on specific cases or investigations, Skowhegan-based MSAD 54 Superintendent Jon Moody said his district takes “all complaints of bias and discrimination extremely seriously.

“Board policies and procedures dictate the process for following through on allegations of bias and harassment, in addition to our principals (at Skowhegan Area Middle School and Skowhegan Area High School) who have each been trained on affirmative action.”

District policies are adopted in consultation with legal counsel “to ensure that they comply with state and federal laws,” Moody said.


Ellis said she met with the district’s assistant superintendent, Mark Hatch, and the two “discussed ideas on how to change the behavior and tolerance of racism and sexism in the district.”

But she said the response from district officials over the course of several months has been uneven.

“I emailed multiple people at the school and some were responsive, some were not,” Ellis said.

Corson said she had similar experiences with her two children: a daughter who is 13 and a son who is 11.

“The major thing is exclusion,” Corson said. “My son is always the first to get singled out, every time. That is his main issue he feels every day. That might not even be conscious to people, but it happens when you’re the only Black kid.”

Corson described an incident a few years ago when she said her daughter chose to leave class when a student told classmates that “it’s OK to be racist” after the class read a book on Martin Luther King Jr.


Ellis decided to take time away from her job to address what was happening with her children. She’s been working with district administrators and has consulted with the state Department of Education, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and other parties.

Roberta Hersom, superintendent of MSAD 49, said the goal of any investigation is to gather the facts and determine whether allegations are credible. Complaints of discrimination or harassment are handled by the district’s affirmative action officer or outside counsel because of a requirement for specialized training in those areas, she said.

“Our policies … make clear that violations are taken very seriously and may result in disciplinary action against students or staff, up to and including expulsion or dismissal,” Hersom said.

The Maine School Boards Association provides resources for school boards to utilize when crafting policies.

“The issues are considered very serious incidents by school districts, and yet I know that they have had very different levels of resolution based on the situation and the concerns expressed by students and parents,” said Steve Bailey, a spokesperson for the association.

The association works with the Maine School Management Association to promote policies centered around an array of offenses, such as discrimination, sexual harassment and hazing.


The state Department of Education investigates Title IX complaints while the Maine Human Rights Commission reviews discrimination complaints. (Title IX is a common reference to federal civil rights law in the U.S. that prohibits sex-based discrimination in a school or education program that receives funding from the federal government.)

Additionally, the Office of the Maine Attorney General has a division that offers programs for schools. In 2019, that office provided training for students meant to challenge “bias and harassment in our schools.” A similar presentation is planned for elementary school staff in the fall.

Moody, the MSAD 54 superintendent, said that while he has the perspective of the district and how it responds to instances of hate or bias, “I am acutely aware that some families’ lived experience may suggest that discrimination and bias continue to persist.”

Ellis is not sure what will ultimately come of her recent complaints. In her conversations with MSAD 54, she was assured that the district is working on “getting more inclusive books in the classrooms and libraries to include kids of all races, disabilities, nations, etc., and to even include skin-toned crayons as school supplies in the classroom to simply educate that there is more than one skin color.”

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