Ellsworth School Board meeting takes detour on question of public comment

ELLSWORTH — An otherwise routine School Board meeting was disrupted, briefly, ahead of the public comment period.

The meeting, held the night of Aug. 9, began with the recognition of the Ellsworth High School baseball team for winning the Class B state title back in June.

EHS Principal Dan Clifford also mentioned the ongoing fundraising efforts meant to help send the school band to Washington, D.C. The band, chosen to represent the entire state of Maine and perform during a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, is trying to raise $50,000 for the trip.

So far, members have raised $2,000 by holding a bake sale in front of Renys and expect to raise another $2,000 to $4,000 working as parking attendants during a concert in Bangor.

Other building administrators spoke about the positions that still need to be filled at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, including a sixth-grade teacher vacancy and several special education positions. The schools are also looking to hire around 20 education technicians, or ed techs, from levels one through three.

Annie Sargent, director of Ellsworth Adult Education, told the board that the program was getting a new logo along with a new name. Sargent announced that the program would now be called Ellsworth Adult and Community Education to better acknowledge the extent to which it partners with community organizations, agencies, employers and businesses as well as its overall commitment to the community of Ellsworth.

On that front, Sargent announced that the program will soon be offering an early childhood education microcredential certificate, in partnership with early childhood employers in the area and also the University of Maine System.

Hancock County Technical Center Director Amy Boles, who has been filling in for Superintendent Katrina Kane over the last few weeks and was presiding over this board meeting in that role, announced that HCTC was desperately seeking an automotive instructor.

After the committee reports, Vice Chairwoman Abigail Miller, who ran the meeting in the absence of board Chairwoman Kelly McKenney, opened the public comment portion of the meeting. Before inviting anyone to speak, Miller informed those assembled that the board would be limiting comments to one minute in length, would not allow any personal or targeted attacks toward specific individuals and would only hear from citizens of Ellsworth or members of the school community.

Shawn McBreairty, an activist in attendance who previously sparred with the Hampden School Board and has levied unsubstantiated accusations against educators in Ellsworth, took exception to the exclusion of nonresident speakers. McBreairty argued that School Board policy did not allow for the board chair to exclude certain members of the public.

As written, the board’s policy states: “Citizens and employees of the school unit are welcome to participate as provided in this policy. Others may be recognized to speak at the Chair’s discretion.”

While McBreairty continued to argue, Miller called for a five-minute recess and left the chamber along with fellow board members Paul Markosian and Elizabeth Alteri. Boles stayed and attempted to explain the policy to McBreairty, with the two eventually agreeing that McBreairty was allowed to make his comments to those assembled in the room during the recess. Markosian also returned during this time and stood by to listen.

During his comments, McBreairty referenced a School Board workshop held earlier this month at which board members discussed ways to support staff who were the subject of statements made by McBreairty and others during events hosted at John Linnehan’s Constitution Hall.

After he finished, Miller and Alteri returned to the chamber and the meeting resumed. The board approved the first read of an amendment to school policy that would allow for high school students to wear hats. The board appreciated that it would allow for additional expression from students as long as that expression followed other guidelines in place. Teachers retain the right to ask students to remove hats if they deem it necessary.

Boles also discussed the return to school plan, hoping to ease some of the concerns she had been hearing from parents.

“I want to assure the public that we are moving from the ‘pandemic’ phase to the ‘endemic’ phase of COVID-19,” Boles explained. “What we’re looking to do is to be open again. If you’re still nervous about COVID you have the right to protect yourself and wear a mask, but we will not be requiring masks and we will not be participating in contact tracing … we are excited to welcome students and staff back into buildings. The one exception will be if you are COVID-positive.”

Boles said the district was still waiting for the state to release its guidelines before putting forth a formal plan, but the expectation is that things will mostly return to pre-COVID procedures, though the school will still offer resources and have tests available for those who are still concerned.

Zachary Lanning

Zachary Lanning

News reporter Zach Lanning covers news and features in the Ellsworth area. He comes to Ellsworth by way of New Jersey, which he hopes you don't hold against him. Email him at [email protected].

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