Former Portland school employee files federal lawsuit against district, former superintendent

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Apr. 27—A former Portland special education teacher has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district and former Supt. Xavier Botana, saying he was terminated in retaliation for speaking out about classroom staffing shortages.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by Eric Poulin says Botana and the district violated the First Amendment, the Maine Human Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Maine Whistleblowers Protection Act.

Eric Poulin worked in a K-1 special education classroom from Nov. 2020 until Aug. 31, 2022. During his tenure, an employee under his supervision was arrested and charged with sexual exploitation of a minor and other crimes involving a student in Poulin's classroom. The district did not renew Poulin's contract.

The lawsuit says Poulin multiple times communicated with district leadership regarding staff shortages and health and safety risks to students over the course of the 2021-22 school year both before and after the arrest of the employee, Benjamin Conroy. The school district, the lawsuit says, did not respond to his concerns.

Following the arrest, then Supt. Botana, who resigned earlier this year, publicly stated that Conroy was never alone with the victim as a result of staffing shortages. Poulin said that was inaccurate and at the time spoke publicly, including to a Portland Press Herald reporter, about staffing shortages within the district's Beach program.

The lawsuit claims the district's decision to not renew his contract was in retaliation to the plaintiffs continued complaints and public statements about staffing shortages.

The Portland school district said that its decision not to renew Poulin's contract was tied to job performance.

"At Portland Public Schools we consider the decision as to whether to nominate a teacher for a continuing contract to be one of the most critical decisions we make and the standard we use is whether the teacher under consideration is the best person to meet the needs of our students," the district said in a written statement.

"Mr. Poulin did not meet this standard. We cannot choose the easy path of avoiding litigation over the best interests of our students and therefore Mr. Poulin was not given a continuing contract to teach here."

This story will be updated.