On March 4, 2023, Presumpscot Elementary School of Portland Public Schools in Maine posted a video on social media of young students marching while chanting “Black Lives Matter.” The school explained that the country and world “will be a more just place” because of these students. Parents Defending Education submitted a public records request to the district requesting documents and emails regarding the organization of the event. PDE received two files of emails regarding the children marching for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In all of the emails, most of the school staff involved in discussions of the march have their pronouns listed in their email signatures. In one file of emails, the principal of Presumpscot Elementary School stated on March 4, 2023:
There are moments as an educator/leader when you are humbled by the students and staff you work with. Friday was one of those moments. I was waiting at the green light on the corner of Washington and Presumpscot behind a car. We were waiting to turn left when most of our school held up traffic as they marched chanting Black Lives Matter. It was incredible. Thank you, [redacted] and PRS Civil rights Team, for leading this work. Our students are the next leaders of this country and world and I know because of them it will be a more just place.
In this same file of emails, a fifth grade teacher with pronouns in her email signature who helped organize the march explained more about the event. In an email dated February 16, 2023, she stated:
On February 28th from 9:30-10, 5th grade students will be leading a march to celebrate the end of Black History Month. This march is organized and led by the 5th grade civil rights team and is united in the message that Black Lives Matter here at Presumpscot and in our global community! Classes are invited to join the march by walking with us and visiting our memorial/celebration in the new cafeteria throughout the day.
The march was later delayed to March 3.
She explained that the march was organized by the “5th grade civil rights team” and invited other classes to join in the political march. On that same day, the platform “SchoolMessenger” was used to broadcast the event in 417 emails under the name “Black Lives Matter March.” The document shows that 296 people received the email.
A previous email dated February 9, 2023, appears to be from a fifth grade student to the teacher. The student provided plans for the march. These plans included going into classrooms and making an “announcement telling everyone where the march is and and tell them about it and why it is so important and to please respect the piece of work that all the civil rights team did and please come with your class or with friends.”
The teacher stated in another email: “Please look at the brilliance of these kiddos – this is 100% their planning led by <33333.” In a document attached to the emails, the teacher appears to be promoting political activism and has students completing projects called the “Human Rights Activist Slideshow” and “Human Rights Activist Research.”
In the other file of emails that PDE received, school staff continued to discuss the Black Lives Matter march. In one email dated March 2, 2023, the teacher who helped organize the event appeared to explain that fifth grade classes were altered so students could participate in the march. She explained:
Just wanted to clue you in on the different schedule we will have in 5th grade tomorrow. From 11~11:30 we will be doing our BLM March. When students get back into the classroom and settled, I think both classes will spend that last 25 minutes working on a math sheet for conferences. If [redacted] does plan to do this, perhaps you can support in her classroom while students are working on it? Hopefully the timing of everything will leave us with enough time to work on it.
The file of emails also contains a photo of what appears to be a classroom in the school. The photo features a teacher showing students and teaching them about a “Pyramid of Hate.” The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has described the “Pyramid of Hate” as showing “while every biased attitude or act does not lead to genocide, each genocide has been built on the acceptance of attitudes and actions described at the lower levels of the Pyramid.” The ADL’s pyramid intends to show that actions such as using “non-inclusive language” and committing “microaggressions” will possibly lead to “the act or intent to deliberately and systematically annihilate an entire people.”
On February 2, 2023, a social worker from the school discussed students waving flags for a community meeting in an email. However, she appeared to make an uncorrected typo and said “fag wavers” instead of “flag wavers.”
When discussing a community meeting in a February 13 email, one person explains that “fourth graders will wave their flags and say the Land Acknowledgment.” Fifth grade students were expected to make an announcement about the upcoming BLM march at this meeting.
On February 28, 2023, the organizing teacher also sent out a message that on the day of the march “the halls will be quite bustling and noisy – I imagine students will be starting with a chant of ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER!'” Another teacher responded: “I will have a chat with my kindergartners in advance to help them understand on their level what BLM means.” She then added: “If anyone has a great video or read aloud to suggest for introducing this topic to 5 and 6 year olds, I am all ears!”
An image was also in the file of young students holding up signs that stated “BLM” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The school district also provided PDE with a document that was related to the BLM march. The document appears to be created by students. The document includes the phrases “No justice, no peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Stand up for what’s right we won’t leave without a fight.”