PORTLAND — Students in King Middle School’s “Four Freedoms” learning expedition are getting a first-hand education in free speech after last weekend’s state Republican convention.
While the convention was held at the Portland Expo, GOP organizations from Maine’s 16 counties were each given private meeting spaces in King classrooms.
One of those classrooms is run by Paul Clifford, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, who said he was surprised when he returned to the room on Monday to find that a poster celebrating the labor movement had been removed and replaced with a Republican sticker.
The poster had the following quote from union leader Eugine Debs: “Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.”
“In it’s place was a large sticker that said ‘Workers Vote Republican,'” Clifford said. “I thought it was cute until I realized the poster was gone. We can’t find it and it hasn’t been returned.”
The amusement further diminished when Clifford found a note on his desk.
“(It) said ‘A Republican was here,” Clifford said. “And then it said, ‘What gives you the right to propagandize impressionable kids. A Republician.'”
The note was an apparent reaction to several student-made collages in the classroom, Clifford said – personal expressions related to a specific expedition.
Clifford said the classroom was used by the Knox County Republicans, the group largely credited with convincing the state party to adopt a platform calling for abolition of the Federal Reserve and Department of Education, and closing the nation’s borders.
Clifford said he was further surprised when some Knox County Republicans called the school to complain about the collages and copies of the U.S. Constitution in his classroom. The documents were donated by the American Civil Liberties Union, and contained a special section on Miranda Rights. They were stored in a closed box on the floor.
“We allowed someone to use our building. They came in and searched our stuff. Stole a poster. Left our building trashed. And then called us to complain about what they found when they searched our house,” Clifford said.
Sue Ward, the assistant to the school superintendent, said it is not uncommon for political parties to use public schools for their conventions. Groups are typically charged for staff time associated with operating a school building on an off day, but Ward said the Republicans were not charged, since they only used the building for a few hours on Friday.
Clifford said other teachers also reported problems following the convention. Complaints about litter and stray fliers were reported throughout the school, he said.
Neither Principal Mike McCarthy nor Maine Republican Party Executive Director Christie-Lee McNally could not be reached for comment.
Clifford said he is using the incident as a teachable moment for students. Sometimes people believe in their own ideas so strongly, he said, that they forget that others have a right to their own point of view.
“This is not an opportunity to trash somebody,” he said. “We know this is not something that would be condoned by the Republican Party. This type of stuff happens on both sides of the party line.”
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org