The schools superintendent in Queen Anne’s County has filed a federal complaint against her school board, accusing the five-member body of racial discrimination and opening the door for a federal lawsuit.
Dr. Andrea M. Kane, in her fourth year as superintendent in the Eastern Shore county, filed the “charge of discrimination” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission late last month. The complaint lays out more than two dozen instances that Kane, the county’s first Black superintendent, says represent a pattern of “discriminatory, hostile, and retaliatory treatment” by the all-white board.
They include allegations that two board members defaced a photograph of an award-winning African American teacher at school headquarters in 2018, that the board failed to condemn a high-ranking administrator who used derogatory language about Blacks the same year, and that the board illegally sought to terminate contracts between the school district and racial equity groups when Kane was on medical leave last fall.
The school board “has subjected me, an African-American woman, to a hostile and discriminatory work environment, retaliated against me for my complaints of race discrimination, interfered with my duties as Superintendent, and breached the terms of my contract,” Kane says in the complaint.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Queen Anne’s school board president Richard Smith said the board “strongly denies” the charges in the complaint filed Dec. 24.
“The Board has not discriminated against Dr. Kane on the basis of her race and has not subjected her to a hostile and discriminatory work environment,” he said. “The Board has never retaliated against Dr. Kane because of her race. Queen Anne’s County and our school system are not racist, and it is regrettable that Dr. Kane has made such allegations.”
The board would have no further comment on the pending case, the statement said.
According to the EEOC website, anyone wishing to file a federal employment discrimination lawsuit must first file a complaint with the commission, as Kane has done. The agency has 180 days to complete an investigation.
If there’s a finding that discrimination occurred, it becomes lawful to sue. Kane’s attorney, Timothy F. Maloney, says that’s the goal.
“The lawsuit will be filed by the EEOC, or by Dr. Kane if the EEOC does not,” he said. He said Kane is seeking both financial damages and an order that the board cease discriminatory behavior toward her.
Kane, 55, is a 30-year veteran in public education. Her record includes 22 years as a teacher and administrator in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools and four years as associate superintendent of schools in Richmond, Virginia.
In an interview, Kane said she filed the complaint only after exhausting every conventional means of seeking redress.
“I’ve been trying to work with the Queen Anne’s County school board for 3½ years,” she said. “This has only been escalating.”
Kane has said she will not seek a renewal of her contract when it expires June 30.
The Queen Anne’s County school district enrolls about 7,500 students in 15 schools in a largely rural and traditionally conservative county of nearly 50,000 residents. Queen Anne’s, which is more than 85% white, has voted for the Republican candidate in 10 of the last 11 presidential elections. GOP President Donald Trump won 62% of the vote in 2020.
Under Kane’s leadership, the district has measurably narrowed performance gaps between white and minority students. She has also overseen a first for the state, getting Maryland “Green School” environmental certification for every school in the system.
But tensions with the board of education emerged early, she says, and have yet to stop. Kane lodges several broad complaints and cites a range of specific incidents in her seven-page filing.
Among the earliest incidents she reports allegedly took place in August 2018, when Kane says she requested a meeting with the then-board president and got a profane text message in return.
Weeks later, the complaint says, she learned that two members of the school board had used a pen to draw horns, a mustache and a goatee on a photo of Janet Pauls, a veteran African American teacher whose resume includes a Teacher of the Year award.
“Multiple employees” reported the incident at the district’s headquarters in Centreville as “an act of racial hostility,” Kane writes, but says the board ignored her request that it address the matter.
“The Board’s silence sent a disgraceful message,” her complaint says.
In the complaint, Kane also says that a high-ranking school system administrator used disparaging language about Blacks and discussed with board members how to get Kane fired.
Kane sacked the official, she says in the complaint. The board failed to act on her request that they publicly support her move, she says, leaving county residents to speculate as to why an official they knew well was suddenly gone. The Baltimore Sun’s attempts to reach the former official were unsuccessful.
The complaint comes after tensions between Kane and the board erupted into public view last summer.
Amid protests across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Kane used part of her end-of-the-school-year email to parents to call for enhanced dialogue on matters of race. And she voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
She mentioned what she described as the “disparate brutality and overt racism that is only experienced by Black people in America, including me,” and saluted “Black and White people coming together in nonviolent protests against the mistreatment of and discrimination against Black people and people of color.”
“Racism is alive in our country, our state, in Queen Anne’s County, and our schools,” she wrote, a comment she still describes as unremarkable.
But some in the county took offense. A Facebook group, the Kent Island Patriots, formed in opposition to Kane. Its founder, Stevensville attorney Gordana Schifanelli, argued that expressing such views under the school system’s banner amounted to indoctrination of children and violated Maryland law.
The group attracted more than 2,000 members within weeks. Many signed a petition calling for Kane to avoid “politics” while on the job. At the same time, more than 6,500 signed a counterpetition in support of Kane.
Kane refers to the episode in her complaint, saying the board failed to back her advocacy for racial equity, advocacy she says is now the norm in schools across Maryland and beyond. Moreover, she says, at a public board meeting in August, board members read aloud letters that attacked her position but declined to read any of the thousands of emails of support she says she received from members of the community.
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“This lack of public support has allowed … overt racism to boil over — and that has sadly become the default position of the Board,” Kane said in the complaint.
Kane made news again in October when reports emerged that she had not shown up for work at district headquarters for two weeks, leaving many in the community unclear who was running the school system.
The school board made no public announcements on the development during that time, finally announcing late in the month that Kane was on sick leave.
By the time Kane resumed her full slate of duties in mid-December, county residents had elected new board members to replace two whose terms had expired. One, Stevensville attorney Marc Schifanelli, is the husband of the Kent Island Patriots founder.
At the board’s Jan. 6 meeting, Kane was in the midst of describing racial equity efforts in other Maryland school systems when Schifanelli objected, arguing that it’s against the law for her to introduce her political views in that forum.
“Thank you,” she said before continuing.
“I will not stop speaking out about the issues of racism, injustice or equity in Queen Anne’s County and elsewhere,” she said at the meeting. “I continue to pray that this community find a path toward awareness, understanding and reconciliation for the benefit of everyone.”