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Brewer superintendent responds to investigator's report detailing discrimination, retaliation against LGBTQ advisor

An investigator has recommended the Maine Human Rights Commission find reasonable grounds the allegations are true
Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine
Brewer High School is one of many K-12 and higher education schools around the state hoping to welcome students back to campus in the fall 2020 semester, despite COVID-19.

BREWER, Maine — Brewer School Superintendent Gregg Palmer on Tuesday issued a written statement responding to the recommendation that the Maine Human Rights Commission found the school discriminated and retaliated against a longtime Brewer High School teacher who advises an LGBTQ student group.

Longtime Brewer High School English teacher Michelle MacDonald filed a complaint against the school department and fellow English teachers Breanne Pelletier and Paul Wellman on Oct. 29, 2019.

MacDonald, who also serves as co-advisor for the school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club, alleged discrimination beginning in 2017 and continuing to at least March 2020.

MHRC investigator Jane O'Reilly recommended the commission find reasonable grounds to believe the school department discriminated against MacDonald based on sexual orientation due to her association with and advocacy for persons who are transgender by subjecting her to a hostile work environment and retaliated against her for reporting discriminatory behavior by staff and students by replacing her as curriculum leader after she made the reports. 

She recommended the commission find no reasonable grounds that Pelletier and Wellman discriminated against MacDonald.

Palmer wrote Tuesday afternoon that the school department takes concerns seriously and works to resolve them. He said, "Anything that falls under the purview of the Maine Human Rights Commission is treated with the utmost care."

Palmer's statement continues:
"The School Department is proud of the work it has engaged in over the past few years around the rights of all our students and employees which includes a new equity and inclusion task force; support of our Civil Rights and GSA teams; engaging with Racial Equity and Justice, a local group dedicated to support and education around these issues; district-wide training regarding equity; local grants to support new initiatives related to educating students regarding indigenous peoples; rainbow sidewalks that celebrate diversity and connect our high school parking lot to the building; a large group of students attending this years Seeds of Peace camp and who will return ready to be part of the conversation around ensuring a just, safe, positive educational experience for every individual; and strong, consistent statements of support by our School Committee and the Trustees."

Palmer said the school department "cannot guarantee every interaction unfolds in the way a given person expects it should," but said each incident is investigated and appropriate action is taken.

Palmer said the Brewer School Department "remain[s] committed to having Brewer be a leader when it comes to having the most inclusive, equitable programs Maine has to offer and stand ready to work with all constituents in order to continue to grow and learn and be the very best school district possible."

The Maine Human Rights Commission will meet Monday to consider the report of its investigator.

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