In election aftermath, Cape memo calls for civility

Howard Colter, the interim school superintendent in Cape Elizabeth, said that a memo issued on Nov. 10 was in response to a couple of incidents “that caused us all to be concerned.”

The memo to residents called for calm and for all those in the school community to practice the values of unity and respect.

“It was reported that two separate, very inappropriate statements were directed toward our Muslim community by students. One comment was directed toward a student and the other remark was more general and overheard in the hallway,” Colter said.

“In addition, we received concerns from (some) parents that their children felt uncomfortable at school because they had supported Donald Trump,” he said. “We also heard from several families that a few of our employees seemed overly emotional about the outcome of the election.”

However, Colter added that “for the most part, our students have acted very appropriately and I remain impressed by the way our faculty have conducted themselves.”

Details of the incidents were not provided because, Colter said, the school department is still investigating.

The memo sent to the community at large by Colter and Elizabeth Scifres, chairwoman of the School Board, reads, “In the wake of what has been a particularly contentious political season, we must acknowledge that emotions are running high around the country and right here in town.

“No matter where we fall as individuals on the political spectrum, as a school community we are neutral (and) our role, as it is every day, is to make sure our students feel welcomed, safe, comfortable and supported in our schools.”

Like most towns in southern Maine, Cape Elizabeth voters supported Hillary Clinton by a wide margin over president-elect Donald Trump. In a turnout of 80 percent, Clinton received 4,480 votes while Trump got 1,593. Residents in Cape also supported Clinton during the Democratic primary. In fact, it was one of a very few communities in Maine that put Clinton on top of her rival, Bernie Sanders.

“Our hope is that parents and guardians will continue to engage their children in conversations around the larger issues raised during the national campaign,” the memo Colter and Scifres sent to the community said. “At school we will continue to emphasize and model our traditions of unity, respect and collaboration with all of our students.”

Colter told the Current that “over the last 18 months comments have been repeatedly made by candidates for political office that have felt bigoted, threatening and intimidating to many of our citizens, including children. There is no place for such negative feelings in our schools.”

Those type of comments, he said, “go against what we believe, and students can’t learn when they are worried or fearful. We sent the note home to ask for continued conversations about mutual respect and civility.”

“We also hope that parents will stress that everyone has a right to their opinion and that the beauty of a democracy is that we benefit as a nation from open and respectful discourse on all sides on all issues,” he said.

Colter said that up to and including Election Day, “our teachers did an amazing job of teaching children about the democratic process and provided age-appropriate debates and presentations on the well-publicized issues raised during the campaign by both candidates.”

Scifres said she and Colter sent out the joint memo because it’s “important we acknowledge that emotions have been running high in the wake of this unusually contentious election season. The superintendent and the School Board wished to reiterate (the school district’s) values of acceptance and respect for all people. Our schools are to be a safe, welcoming place for all to teach and learn.”