ELLSWORTH – Two women who complained to the Ellsworth School Department about bullying now say the department is under investigation.
“I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights,” said Rachel Hicks, the mother of a former Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School student. “They took the case and are investigating the school.”
The investigation is to determine if Hicks’ daughter “was subjected to a racially hostile environment during the 2018-2019 school year and, if so, whether the district failed to respond in a reasonable, timely, and effective manner” in violation of the law, the DOE letter states.
“She got called the N-word and the school didn’t call me,” Hicks said in March.
Her daughter reported the incident and others to school officials, but nothing seemed to change.
The situation got so bad, Hicks’ daughter wrote a suicide note and left it on the desk of her alleged bully. Shortly after that, she was withdrawn from the school.
Gwen Clark says her granddaughter also made bullying reports to school officials. That is why she asked to be placed on the Ellsworth School Board’s agenda.
“They’ve denied us being added to the school board agenda, not once but twice as of yesterday,” Clark said. “At the last school board meeting we spoke under public comments but they put all these stipulations, regulations and rules and we can only speak for three minutes.”
The other problem is that the board cannot respond to public comments, but they can with any agenda item, Clark stressed.
The denial letter has several paragraphs about how to change the school department’s bullying policy.
“The policy is great. It follows the statue along the lines of the Maine state policy. It’s that the policy is not being followed,” Clark said. “And that parents are being lied to.”
“When you go to the administrators and the administrators are not handling something, then the school board needs to step in,” she added later. “But they’ve stepped back is what they have done.”
As far as the DOE investigation is concerned, “Right now, it looks like we’re going to try to voluntarily resolve it,” Hicks said.
Superintendent Dan Higgins did not return a message left for comment.
The two women say they will be at the next school board meeting.