Two Maine moms say agents from Maine’s troubled child welfare agency paid them visits just days after they complained about a Damariscotta public school social worker who provided a 13-year-old girl with breast binders without informing her parents.
Both women said they believe the visits were retaliation by school officials — retaliation brought upon them because they objected to the school’s gender-related counseling for minors.
One of those moms is Amber Lavigne, the mother of the 13-year-old girl.
In December, Lavigne discovered personnel at the Great Salt Bay Community School (GSBCS) had provided her daughter two breast binders. Breast binders are compression garments used to flatten the appearance of breasts in order to begin a female-to-male social gender transition.
Lavigne later learned the binders were provided by 26-year-old Samuel E. Roy, a school social worker who had been assigned to her daughter without her knowledge.
After a few counseling sessions with her daughter, Roy provided the binders, and other employees at the school began using masculine pronouns to refer to the girl, Lavigne said.
At the time, Roy had only a conditional license from the state of Maine to practice social work, according to state records.
Lavigne was never told the school was providing medical equipment to her daughter and referring to her daughter as though she was a boy.
When Lavigne brought her concerns about the secret gender transition to the school, the school officials she met with were initially sympathetic, but they quickly circled the wagons in defense of school personnel.
So Lavigne filed an official complaint against Roy with the State Board of Social Worker Licensure. When she discovered another social worker in the school, Jessica Berk (Allen-Fumarola), was also aware of the binder, she filed a complaint against Berk as well.
That was Dec. 8.
Four days later, a case worker from Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) was knocking on her door.
Around the same time, Amanda Merritt, of Bremen, also discovered her youngest son, an eight-year-old, had been receiving counseling from Roy without her knowledge.
“Samuel Roy called me on December 19 stating that [my son] was feeling depressed, apparently had suicidal ideation,” Merritt said.
She attributed her son’s distress to a death in the family. “His grandfather died last year. We talk about grandpa a lot. He’s eight,” she said.
She also noted that she’d been working two jobs, trying to make ends meet. According to Merritt, Roy said the boy was complaining that he wasn’t spending enough time with his mom.
So Merritt scheduled some time off and kept her son home from school to spend time with him.
But after learning about Lavigne’s situation, and how Roy had counseled another student at the school, Merritt decided she didn’t want Roy counseling her son anymore.
She called GSBCS Principal Kim Schaff and asked that her son receive a different counselor, a request Schaff granted.
On December 28, just a few days after her call with Schaff, a child welfare case worker from OCFS was knocking on Merritt’s door.
The case worker said her son told school employees he was afraid to come home, which contradicted the original complaint Roy expressed over the phone, that she wasn’t spending enough time with him.
Although Merritt had had previous encounters with OCFS, she immediately began to suspect that this encounter was the result of her complaint about Roy.
“I don’t think they would have been here had I not stood up for my kids,” said Merritt.
“I am 100 percent positive that this is retaliation,” she said.
Lavigne also believes her visit was retaliation for objecting to the school’s secret gender counseling for her daughter.
“I believe it was retaliation, as well as an attempt to bully me into silence,” Lavigne said.
“If there was ever concern that I was emotionally abusive to my child, why wasn’t a complaint filed with child protective services prior to the complaints I filed on the school social workers with the licensing board?” she said.
Both women kept quiet until now because they feared that publicly criticizing the school or government officials might lead OCFS to further retaliate by taking unjustified adverse action against them while their cases were open.
They are only speaking out now because their caseworkers have informed them that the investigations into allegations that they abused or neglected their children have been dismissed without findings.
“Their attempts to silence me have only further surfaced my natural instinct to protect my kids, and that natural instinct is stronger than any of the bullies attempting to wash this away,” said Lavigne.
Although the threat that OCFS might take their children away has abated — for now — Lavigne and Merritt are reeling from what they believe is politically motivated harassment brought upon them because they expressed skepticism or resistance to the school’s ideologically driven “gender affirming” practices.
The OCFS letter Lavigne received closing her case said she was investigated for the “allegation” that she had engaged in “Emotional Abuse – Low/Moderate Severity”. (Merritt has yet to receive a similar letter but said she was informed via text message by her case officer that her case was closed without a finding.)
So who made the allegations?
AOS 93 Superintendent Lynsey Johnston did not respond to an inquiry asking whether she or any AOS 93 employee contacted OCFS in response to Lavigne and Merritt’s complaints.
Allegations submitted to OCFS are confidential under state law, so unless the facts emerge in potential future litigation, they’ll likely never know who alleged that they were abusing or neglecting their children.
According to the OCFS website, anyone can report child abuse or neglect by phone.
The site says tipsters can request confidentiality or anonymity.
“If a report is deemed appropriate for investigation and assigned to a caseworker contact with the family should occur within three days of the report,” the website states.
OCFS Director Todd Landry did not respond to an email asking whether a parent interrupting or criticizing a school’s gender transition plan for their child could trigger a visit from child welfare agents.
OCFS, a division of Maine’s vast Department of Health and Human Services, is a troubled agency that has struggled in recent years to address systemic problems protecting children from harm.
In January, with the release of the 2022 Child Welfare Ombudsman report, OCFS faced renewed criticism and calls for the agency to be drastically restructured.
The allegation that visits from OCFS case workers may have been weaponized for political or ideological purposes will likely add fuel to the bipartisan calls for an overhaul of the agency.
“I am deeply concerned by the possibility that child protective services was called on parents who merely exercised their parental right to withdraw their child from counseling services with Mr. Roy,” said Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo).
Smith was aware of Lavigne and Merritt’s interactions with OCFS, and the circumstances surrounding those visits, before the Maine Wire contacted her for comment.
“School Administrators must stop the war on parents and find respect for the parents rightful role in the life of their child,” said Smith.
Smith said she has introduced legislation at the State House that would require school officials to obtain written consent from parents or legal guardians before beginning gender transitions.
Since Lavigne first went public with her story at a December school board meeting, Johnston and school board Chairman Samuel Belknap III have refused to answer detailed questions from the press, instead issuing vague statements about the matter on the school’s website.
[RELATED: Maine School Asserts Legal Right to Secretly Counsel Students on Sex Changes Without Parental Consent…]
In those statements, Johnston and Belknap have criticized Lavigne and the Maine Wire, though not by name. Maine’s legacy newspapers and corporate media have mostly avoided reporting on Lavigne’s story.
Roy’s actions appear to have violated at least two school policies, but the board has never addressed that issue publicly.
AOS 93 policies prohibit staff from asking students to keep secrets, as Lavigne said Roy did with her daughter.
Those policies also outline how staff are supposed to develop accomodations for gender non-conforming students, stating “a plan should be developed, in consultation with the student, parent(s)/guardian(s) and others as appropriate.”
[RELATED: Maine Mom Demands School Board Investigate Social Worker Who Counseled 13-Year-Old Into Secret Gender Transition…]
Although the AOS 93 policy contains the presumption of parental involvement in any gender-based accommodations, Lavigne was never consulted before school officials started using masculine pronouns to refer to her daughter.
Johnston confirmed last month that Roy remains an employee at the school, though school officials have refused to speak further about Roy’s employment or potential disciplinary actions because of laws protecting school personnel.
Lavigne has demanded, through her legal representatives, a thorough investigation of school employees’ conduct with regard to her daughter.
She is being represented by the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute attorney Adam Shelton has said AOS 93 violated Lavigne’s constitutional rights.
“After speaking with Ms. Lavigne and reviewing the relevant laws, we believe that these decisions violated Ms. Lavigne’s fundamental constitutional right to control and direct the education, upbringing, and healthcare decisions of her daughter, as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Shelton said in a Feb. 1 letter to Belknap.
Read the demand letter Goldwater delivered last month to AOS 93:
AOS 93 school officials, for their part, appear to preparing to defend the school’s approach to socially transitioning minors without informing parents.
At a hastily organized morning board meeting last month, school board members went directly into a private executive session with an attorney from Portland-based law firm Drummond Woodsum to discuss potential litigation against the district.
Lavigne hasn’t heard back from the state regarding the complaints she filed against the AOS 93 social workers.
Typically, when a complaint is filed, the subject of the complaint will respond, and that response is made available to the complainant.
“[I]n most instances a copy of the response will be provided to the complainant unless there is a compelling reason such as the safety and welfare of a client,” Kristin Racine, an attorney with Maine’s Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation, said in an email.
Due to state law, Racine couldn’t address Lavigne’s two complaints or explain why Lavigne hasn’t heard anything from the state after three months. She did say, generally speaking, that there are instances where a complaint might be withheld from the complainant.
“Determinations on whether to provide the response in those instances when a concern is raised are made on a case-by-case basis by staff in consultation with board counsel,” said Racine. “Boards, however, always have the discretion to direct board staff to investigate a matter further or to seek additional information with regards to a complaint.”
One of the members of the State Board of Social Worker Licensure is Angela Fileccia, the Director of College Counseling at the University of Maine, where Roy’s LinkedIn page said he was a student as of December.
According to her LinkedIn page, Fileccia also previously worked at Northern Light Health in Bangor for four years, a period that would have coincided with when Roy was working with Northern Light in Bangor, according to his now-deleted LinkedIn page.
The Maine Wire asked Fileccia in an email whether the board intervened in Lavigne’s complaint and whether she had a pre-existing relationship with Roy that rose to the level of a conflict of interest. The Maine Wire also asked whether she recused herself from board business concerning Roy’s conditional license.
“Due to licensing board rules, I am unable to comment on any issue related to the board,” Fileccia said in an email.
Racine followed up on Fileccia’s behalf noting that no one from the state would be able to offer any comment on board members’ conduct concerning the investigation.
The transparency of government business has been an issue as Lavigne has pursued records related to her daughter’s counseling sessions with Roy.
On multiple occasions, Lavigne has asked the school to turn over the social worker’s records, but the school has adamantly refused to turn over those records, claiming that they are protected under the state and federal law.
However, Lavigne says her daughter never asked for those records to remain confidential and that they should be available to her legal guardian and the family’s attorneys.
In a Dec. 11 email chain between Lavigne and school board member Meridith Verney, Lavigne say she asked Superintendent Johnston on multiple occasions to turn over her daughter’s records.
But Johnston invoked the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as the reason why she would not.
[RELATED: Public School Worker Who Began Secret Gender Transition on 13-Year-Old Maine Girl Has Conditional License…]
In the email, Lavigne said she believed FERPA allowed school officials to withhold such records from parents only if they believed that turning them over would lead to child abuse or neglect.
“It seems as though they are alleging that my child would potentially be exposed to abuse or neglect if they released these records to me,” Lavigne wrote to Verney. “That is a large accusation that I won’t take lightly.”
“I find it interesting that they would allege something like this, yet send a chest binder home with my child and encouraged her to keep it a secret from us, hiding it in her bedroom,” she wrote.
Johnston and other school employees are mandated reporters — that is, they are required by law to contact OCFS if they believe child abuse or neglect is occuring.
If they believed Lavigne interrupting the secret gender counseling the school was providing her daughter amounted to child abuse, they would be bound by law to report their concern to the state.
In addition to not answering questions about the apparent policy violations at the school, Johnston has exploited weaknesses in Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) to block the inspection of public records.
The Maine Wire submitted a Freedom of Access Act request for public records to AOS 93 seeking documents that might shed light on how the school handled an apparent violation of its policies.
The request sought records from Oct. 1 to Dec. 18 that mentioned “binder” or concerned Lavigne’s allegations.
In response, Johnston asked for fees totaling $1,075.
Exploiting FOAA’s fee provision in such a manner is a common tactic used by government employees in Maine to prevent media from obtaining public records.
In most instances, it’s entirely legal to ask for exorbitant fees.
However, for most journalistic organizations in Maine, such excessive fees are cost prohibitive, meaning government employees can legally place newsworthy records beyond the reach of journalists.
This is especially common when government employees believe that the journalists in question have an adversarial viewpoint or when disclosing the records would prove inconvenient or embarrassing for a government agency.
A narrower request, which omitted the words “binder” and “Robinson”, at Johnston’s suggestion, cost $150.
In response, Johnston sent to the Maine Wire 189 pages of documents consisting mostly of copies of emails the Maine Wire had sent to school officials requesting comment.
The few relevant records provided in response to the request show how school board members, led by Belknap, took steps to avoid communicating with reporters, with Lavigne, or in a format that would be available to journalists seeking public records after Lavigne expressed her concerns privately.
Publicly available meeting information and the emails show the AOS 93 school board has relied heavily on executive sessions, which are not open to the public, in order to avoid public scrutiny or involvement in their discussions of Lavigne’s case.
On Dec. 11, prior to Lavigne going public with her story, board member Meridith Verney wrote to Belknap: “I received a second email from Amber Lavigne. I imagine other Board members received the email as well. As instructed, I did not respond.”
To which Belknap responded, in part: “I have responded to Amber on every occasion where she has emailed me directly, so she is not being ignored.”
Other emails suggest the board developed a strategy to handle media inquiries after Lavigne spoke at the school board meeting.
“Thank you for following our procedure!” Belknap wrote to a fellow board member who had forwarded a request for comment from the Maine Wire.
Belknap never responded to the questions in that inquiry.
Lavigne believes child welfare officers targeted her at the direction of school officials because she filed a complaint against a school social worker who encouraged her daughter to socially transition genders.
If it’s true that OCFS visited her because school officials believed she was abusing her daughter on the basis of her complaint, then the worst fears of parental rights advocates will have been realized in Damariscotta.
Some parental rights advocates fear the trend in education is to criminalize parents if they do not support gender-related counseling, including the secretive counseling Lavigne’s daughter received.
The advocates believe parents who do not support gender transitions for their minor children will be considered abusive and targeted for scrutiny by child welfare agents at the direction of school social workers.
In Maine, the Legislature will soon consider whether to ratify a major substantive rule change from the Maine Department of Education known as Chapter 117, a controversial rule that will formalize the power social workers and guidance counselors have in Maine schools.
If the legislature approves of the rule, then some school social workers will be tasked with providing students “psychosocial evaluation, including diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and emotional disorders.”
Included under that broad umbrella will be the full range of gender-related services, and it’s not at all clear that parents will be kept in the loop as the role of social workers in schools expands.
Alvin Liu, President of Courage Is a Habit, a 501(c)3 parents rights organization, says Chapter 117 will inevitably undermine parents constitutional rights when it comes to the health and education decisions affecting their children
“The goal of Chapter 117 is to further solidify and extend the abilities of social workers and school counselors to work with outside organizations to provide breast binders, penis tuckers, puberty blockers and cross sex hormones; all while keeping it a secret from parents,” said Liu.
“The way Chapter 117 will do that is that the language is vague enough that it allows for transgender activists disguised as ‘mental health professionals’ to deem parents ‘unsafe and abusive’ if they do not succumb to their child’s transgender social contagion,” he said.
Last week, a Maine Wire / Co/Efficient poll of nearly 2,000 Maine residents found 71 percent of Maine believe schools should not be able to provide gender transition counseling to minors without informing their parents.