Ellsworth School Board settles in First Amendment lawsuit



ELLSWORTH — A civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor Sept. 1 by resident Gwendolyn Clark against the Ellsworth School Board and Vice Chairwoman Abigail Miller will be dismissed after the board reached an agreement with Clark.

Clark was escorted by police from an Aug. 12 School Board meeting for violating board policy regarding public comments. She alleged in her complaint that her First Amendment rights had been curtailed by the board’s actions.

The settlement decision came after a School Board executive session held Nov. 23. The vote was 5-0 to accept the settlement with Clark, which requires the board to receive legal training and pay $5,000 to cover Clark’s legal fees. Then, Clark will dismiss her lawsuit against the board and Miller. The board did not admit to any wrongdoing.

“[Clark] is indeed pleased with the details of the settlement,” Brett D. Baber, the attorney representing her, said Nov. 24. “Especially the training the board received last night.”

Prior to the executive session and settlement vote, Drummond Woodsum attorney Melissa Hewey held a near-two-hour board training session that included First Amendment rights training.

“The training provided by Attorney Melissa Hewey was a refresher for current Board members and an opportunity for our new member and the community to gain a greater understanding of the legal roles and responsibilities of the Board,” said Board Chairwoman Kelly McKenney. “We will continue to do school department business and run our meetings consistent with our statutory and policy requirements and in a manner that permits the Board to engage in thoughtful and respectful discussion on behalf of our students and what is in their best interests.”

On Nov. 21, the attorneys for Clark, the Ellsworth School Board and Miller had filed a joint motion to dismiss all claims against Miller.

The settlement for the case against the School Board was requested by the district’s insurance company, noted board member Paul Markosian, who made the motion to accept the settlement agreement.

During the August meeting, Clark had accused the School Board of lying when asked whether critical race theory was part of school curriculums within the district. Miller replied that CRT is a college-level course of study and not used in Ellsworth schools. Clark has filed a Freedom of Access Act request with the school department for curriculum and other materials.

“She will continue to pursue her FOAA request,” Baber said, “and continue to participate in future board meetings.”

Attorneys for the board filed a legal answer to the lawsuit on Oct. 4 denying 14 of the 19 allegations in Clark’s complaint. The board acknowledged the following facts listed in the complaint:

  • Clark appeared before the School Board and asked three questions regarding masking and critical race theory.
  • Various School Board members responded to her questions.
  • Clark “challenged the veracity of the School Board’s previous answers.”
  • Clark later attempted to ask another question.
  • Clark voluntarily left the meeting “under the supervision and guidance” of police officers so as not to cause further disruption.
Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]