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Two Lewiston councilors condemn diversity teaching with backdoor proposal

A proposal condemning after-school diversity teaching at Lewiston Public Schools without council's knowledge.

LEWISTON, Maine — Two Lewiston councilmembers drafted a proposal earlier this year condemning Lewiston Public School's after school diversity programs, labeling them as stemming from "critical race theory" and "radical," without consulting the rest of city council or Mayor Carl Sheline.

Sheline called the matter a breach of transparency, and the councilmembers acted to seek input from city administration without consulting city council undermined the process.

"This proposed resolution really plays on our fears and ignorance and ... this is not what we need as a community," Sheline said. 

The proposal, which was originally obtained by the Sun Journal, was drafted by Council President Lee Clement and Councilmember Rick Lachapelle.

Titled, "A Resolve to Promote Parental Rights and Denounce Certain Teachings in Lewiston Public Schools," the proposal argues Lewiston Public Schools is in discussions to implement teachings from "critical race theory," according to the proposal.

The programs mentioned in the document have actually been taught in Lewiston Public Schools for two years as after school programs, according to Mayor Sheline. 

Lewiston Public Schools Superintendent Jake Langlais told Sun Journal the assertions by Counselors Clement and Lachapelle were inaccurate.

He told NEWSCENTER Maine that the groups are designed to support educators of color and educate the school system.

"We have found through exit interviews that some former employees felt like they did not have colleagues they shared a lived experience with," Langlais said. "This group allows for that connection. We want all our staff to feel and be welcome."

Sheline said the decision the counselors made to go behind closed doors is "partisan and divisive."

He said he and other councilmembers didn't know about the draft proposal until it was made public by the media outlets.

"I think it's really important for us to be conducting the peoples' business transparently. I've certainly been concerned about the council's level of transparency thus far," Sheline said.

Emails from March indicate that Clement asked for the "final official form" be held confidentially until the council rules were suspended.

"It would be then that we ask copies to be disseminated to council members and mayor just prior to discussion commencing," the email from Clement said.

Sheline said this move would have surprised the council and him. The Sun Journal reported councilmembers would have just minutes to review its components before putting it to a vote.

Lewiston City Administrator Heather Hunter emailed Clement back on March 15, telling him the city has significant concerns with "some of the sentiments noted and the overarching impact on the city," the email reads.

Credit: NCM

"Might I suggest you hold off with its presentation tonight and I can have the team take a stab at a new proposal that loops in your concerns with a more politically correct tone," the email from Hunter reads.

Council President Clement could not be reached for comment on this story.

The proposal was never put for an official vote in Lewiston City Council.

Other city councilors were reached out for comment, but as of Tuesday, May 10, Councilor Robert McCarthy offered a statement in support of the proposal and conduct in which it was created.

"I have no problem with that as it is well within their rights to create any document they wish. Once it is brought before the council, it's fair game," Councilor McCarthy said. "I am not upset by what was stated in the resolution... It also talks about the need for a Parents Bill of Rights which I support."

Sheline said he doesn’t approve of an investigation into the councilmembers' conduct, since local reports detail the their actions in full. He said the best thing to do is move forward with improving transparency.

“How the city counselors went about drafting this proposal was horrible and its not transparent but I think at this point the details are known and we need to focus on Lewiston city business," Sheline said. 

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