Paris residents voted Tuesday night to recall a pair of school board officials who drew the community’s ire by pushing a radical “gender identity” policy for the Oxford Hills School District, the culmination of a parent revolt against a radical policy that first surfaced in October.
Board members Sarah Otterson and Julia Lester, both of Paris, lost their recall elections decisively, with 333 Paris residents voting in favor of recall and 243 voting against.
Paris officials held the election after local residents submitted a petition with nearly 700 signatures calling for a vote on whether the pair should remain on the school board. Unlike some Maine towns and cities, Paris’s local ordinances allow for the recall of local officials, including the school board members the town elects.
Armand Norton, one of the Paris residents behind the petition drive, began the initiative after Otterson and Lester put their support behind a controversial policy that would have required district employees to keep information about student mental health secret from parents.
“I am glad the community came together on this,” said Norton. “Don’t ever give up, do research and make sure what these people are giving you is legal information,” he said.
Both Otterson and Lester backed a so-called “gender identity policy” that, if passed, would have prohibited school employees from telling parents when a student expressed feelings of gender dysphoria or gender confusion.
The policy would even have required school employees to coach students on how to avoid making changes to official school records that might inadvertently reveal the secret information to parents.
While professional left-wing activists and liberal reporters in the media portrayed the policy as a matter of kindness and tolerance, parents feared the policy would cause harm to students, insert government into their family life, and potentially provide a vulnerability for bad actors to exploit.
The fears of many parents in the district were realized in a different Maine community when the Maine Wire reported exclusively on the case of Amber Lavigne, the parent of a 13-year-old student at Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta.
Lavigne discovered a breast binder in her daughters bedroom in December and subsequently learned that a 26-year-old social worker with a conditional license to practice, Sam Roy, had secretly put her daughter on the path the gender transition.
Lavigne confronted the school board over the Roy’s actions, which appeared to violate that school’s policies, but it remains unclear whether Roy is still working in the school. Lavigne has removed her daughter from the school and is pursuing legal action against the district.
The policy Otterson and Lester were recalled over would have established what Roy did with Lavigne’s 13-year-old daughter as the standard operating procedure for the school district.
The school board previously voted in December to indefinitely postpone any consideration of the policy, and with the recall of the policy’s top supporters, the indefinite postponement may become permanent.
At least one sign supporting the recall was vandalized by opponents, and supporters of the recall criticized Heather Manchester, the superintendent of the school district, for using the district-wide email list to encourage school employees to vote.
The behind-the-scenes player in the drama that unfolded in the Oxford Hills School District was the Portland-based law firm Drummond Woodsum.
In the case of the recall vote, Drummond Woodsum worked with Otterson and Lester in an attempt to nullify the vote before it took place. In a special meeting of the school board, Otterson, Lester, and their supporters attempted to have the school board issue a statement saying the town of Paris didn’t have the authority to recall district officials.
Drummond Woodsum’s scheme to negate Paris residents’ assertion of local control ultimately failed, and the recall election proceeded according to the municipal ordinances.
After the failed nullification effort, Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris), a vocal critic of the gender policy, accused Drummond Woodsum of intentionally sowing discord in Maine communities so that the firm could profit on the resulting drama.
“Drummond Woodsum has created a whole new sector of school law with regard to gender ideology,” said Andrews.
“The more strife they cause on school boards and more communities they tear apart in small towns all over Maine, the more billable hours they accrue on the backs of municipal tax payers,” he said.
The Maine Wire contacted Drummond Woodsum attorney Tom Trenholm, who was present for that meeting, to inquire about how much money his firm had made off of the controversy, but he declined to answer questions related to the affray.
Andrews said he hoped the successful recall petition would inspire other communities across Maine to stand up to well-dressed lawyers pushing radical ideologies on flimsy legal grounds.
“The people have spoken with this recall,” said Andrews. “Parents in Paris will not tolerate overtly political school policies that are designed to drive a wedge between a parent and their child.”
“I hope that parents all over the state of Maine see this result, and it’s a catalyst for them get engaged and active on their local school board level,” he said.
“You can pushback to stop bad policies and win. Tonight is evidence of that,” he said. “All it takes is hard work and a little courage.”