A school teacher at private school in Maine was fired after he vocally criticized so-called “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programming that the school adopted after a Spanish teacher alleged the school was rife with racism.
Jonathan McBrine, 51, of Machiasport, was placed on leave from Washington Academy, a private school in eastern Maine, in 2021 and eventually fired. The firing derailed the longtime teacher’s career in education.
He’s now written, but has yet to publish, a book chronicling his ouster from the school.
At the time, the country was in an uproar over the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death, captured on cellphone video, spawned an inferno of Black Lives Matter (BLM) riots that roiled the country.
Later that summer, Spanish teacher Esther A. Kempthorne resigned from the school, citing pervasive racism against her and her daughter, who was a Washington Academy student.
In her resignation letter and subsequent comments to the media, Kempthorne said that she was motivated to resign because of racist jokes other students had made about her daughter.
“Those experiences included jokes about her ethnicity, getting compared to Dora the Explorer, anti-immigrant speech directed at her due to her Hispanic ethnicity, teasing about the border wall (and I.C.E.), kids flashing MAGA undershirts to taunt her and telling her that ‘if you don’t like it then leave’ or ‘go home’,” she said.
After publicly resigning from the school, Kempthorne, who had previously participated in the anti-Trump “Women’s March“, subsequently turned her political activism towards matters of race.
Months after resigning, she claimed that someone had placed a noose in her classroom, though she didn’t recognize it as a noose at the time. This was, she said, an overt display of xenophobia and racism targeting a Latina immigrant.
According to an account in a local newspaper, Kempthorne said that she never understood the significance of the noose until she read about an account of a noose in a another town. That’s when the memory struck her that there had been a noose in her classroom.
No photo of the noose was ever published.
The Bangor Daily News and other media outlets nonetheless ran a stories asserting, without evidence, that a noose was found in her classroom.
Washington Academy never published the full results of their internal investigation, but the attorney hired to investigate the allegation did tell media that she was unable to substantiate the claim.
Rich Olivares, assistant head of school and “director of diversity,” declined to comment for this story.
Kempthorne’s complaints and allegations fanned the flames of racial conflict at Washington Academy, leading school officials to implement a new regime of diversity, equity, and inclusion programming, based on Critical Race Theory (CRT), for faculty and students.
McBrine, a veteran of the U.S. military who served as a combat medic in Bosnia was one of the few teachers to openly criticize the philosophy underlying the programming, and his comments quickly landed him in Kempthorne’s crosshairs.
“I want to warn all my friends. If someone is making you do equity training, that’s the new code word used by Marxists brain washers,” McBrine wrote on his Facebook page. “You will [hear] them promote doctrine like white privilege and whiteness, making you read articles shaming people for being white.”
Kempthorne seized on the social media posts, alleging that McBrine’s political speech on his personal Facebook page was in fact a display of racism.
A Facebook page that Kempthorne appears to have set up in 2016 in connection with her class took in abrupt turn on July 9, 2020, when Kempthorne posted that she had resigned. Afterward, the page became almost exclusively a place for Kempthorne to advocate for political causes, but especially for McBrine’s firing.
Kempthorne used the page to catalogue McBrine’s allegedly racist posts and to advocate for his removal from Washington Academy. She also used the page to promote a GoFundMe started by her daughter that raised $4,250 to support her family’s campaign to rid Washington Academy of racism.
In particular, Kempthorne seemed concerned that McBrine was posting content from conservative Daily Wire political commentator Jordan Peterson.
“Racism exists and it is horrible, gross and needs to be stamped out,” McBrine wrote. “But to equate a trait to an entire race, is the definition of racists,” he said, adding a link to a Peterson video on white privilege.
In one post to conservative radio talker Glenn Beck’s Facebook page, McBrine wrote, “Sitting in a teacher zoom training being taught intersectionality, bias, (implicit bias). Presented and (sic) article about whiteness and after researching the author, she is all about teaching White Privilege.”
White privilege is a concept based in CRT that holds that white people have inherent benefits in their lives based solely upon the color of their skin.
Another meme Kempthorne posted in January of 2021 showed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) portrayed as “Employee of the Month” for Goya, adding that the Bronx Congresswoman had boosted the company’s sales 1000% “while using 0% brain cells.”
That meme was an obvious reference to Goya, a major food company, actually naming Ocasio-Cortez employee of the month for attacking the company and, ironically, juicing their sales significantly.
Ocasio-Cortez had attacked Goya Foods’ CEO Bob Unanue because he spoke publicly in favor of former Republican President Donald Trump. She also urged a boycott of Goya products.
“When she boycotted us, our sales actually increased 1,000%, so we gave her an honorary — we never were able to hand it to her — she got employee of the month for bringing attention to Goya and our adobo,” said Unanue said.
McBrine also posted images of left-wing Members of Congress photoshopped over scenes of destroyed cities as a commentary on the connection between progressive politics and out-of-control political riots occuring at the time, largely in Democrat-controlled cities.
Throughout her advocacy, Kempthorne maintained that Washington Academy was ignoring her calls for change.
However, judging by declarations of victory posted in the Kempthorne family GoFundMe page, it would appear that the school acquiesced to equity-based demands rather quickly.
As a direct result of their advocacy, the family boasted of the following changes at the school: “A new Trustee Diversity Committee has been established… A new Educator Diversity Committee has been created… Diversity Committee Members will attend an 8-month Cultural Competence Institute… A new WA Director of Diversity position was created… Monthly training of the staff, students, and the Board of Trustees on racial and LGBTQ racial inclusivity and implicit bias… A new International Club has been established… A new Civil Rights Team was created… The Gay, Straight, Trans Alliance Club will be revived and supported…”
The page also adds that Washington Academy had enlisted the services of a diversity consultant to assist with an “equity audit.”
Kempthorne’s allegations also spurred the State Legislature to pass a bill that will require private schools that receive taxpayer funding, like Washington Academy, to publish financial audits.
McBrine, in an unpublished copy of the book he wrote about the experience, says that he was a scapegoat — literally a sacrifice the school served up to appease left-wing outrage.
“I received a call informing me that I would be fired due to social media pressure forcing them to withdraw the previously accepted offer of paid leave until I left,” McBrine recounts in the book. “I knew I had done nothing wrong in my heart and would instead be fired and retain my integrity.”
“Unfortunately, a section of this radical left thinks their job is to go after people’s jobs, call them names, and even worse, label a massive swath of society as white supremacists,” he wrote.
McBrine said in a phone interview that the school’s leadership initially told him that his Facebook posts did not amount to a fireable offense. He was asked to shut down his Facebook page, which he did, in the hopes that the complaint would go away.
McBrine said that he contacted the Maine Education Association, the union that represented him as a teacher, but they were not interested in providing him with any legal help.
Even despite the ordeal, which ended his career as an educator, McBrine remains steadfast in his belief that he was right to speak out about the influx of progressive political ideas into the classroom.
“I think equity is a racist word because you’re treating people differently based on their race,” McBrine said.
“I will not abandon the most basic teachings of Christianity to keep a job or to appease radical rioters and terrorists who normalize violence and hate justice; I will stand my ground, even when others are scared to speak out,” McBrine wrote in his book. “I am not asking that others accept my beliefs for my sake but proclaim that I will not reduce my beliefs to make others feel better about things I cannot advocate.”