School Committee: “No Open Meeting Law Violation At May 16 Meeting”


Assistant School Superintendent Doreen Cunningham gives public comment at the Regional School Committee meeting of May 16, 2023. Photo: Screen shot. YouTube/Amherst Media

Report On The Meeting Of The Regional And Union 26 School Committees, July 6, 2023

This meeting was held virtually and was recorded.

The Union 26 (Amherst and Pelham Elementary Schools) and Regional School Committees (RSC) met virtually on July 6 to issue a response to a complaint that the Open Meeting Law (OML) had been violated at the contentious May 16 RSC meeting , chaired by Union 26 chair Peter Demling. The complaint was filed by Paul DeMarco, a representative of the state teachers’ union based at the Holyoke Regional Office, on June 14, and the RSC had 14 business days to respond. July 6 marked the end of the 14 business days. 

The complaint alleges that a letter from Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham (now on administrative leave) named Amherst Pelham Educators’ Association (APEA) president Lamikco Magee as a candidate in the failed Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) principal search, and implied that Magee’s failure to be chosen was the reason behind the APEA’s no confidence vote in Cunningham and Mike Morris on May 12. Also, several other APEA members were disparaged in remarks by Demling’s daughter Auda, who referred to the APEA as “corrupt” and as spreading “blatant misinformation.” In addition, the complaint notes that members of the Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) guidance staff (the entire staff is now on administrative leave) were named individually as subjects of public comment. DeMarco asserts that those personnel cited publicly should have been notified in advance, and that their actions should have been discussed only in executive session. It blames Demling for not intervening to stop the public references to individual staff members.

After consultation with the RSC attorney, the committee drafted a response to DeMarco denying violation of OML and stating, “In this case, the Committees’ members did not make the statements that form the basis of your complaint. Rather, those statements came from members of the public during the public comment period, and the Committees’ members did not deliberate over those comments. In fact, the substance of the comments had nothing to do with the Committees’ agenda for that evening.” Also, the response says that an executive session was not mandated by Massachusetts General Law.

The draft response was passed by a 5-0-1 vote by both Union 26 members and RSC members. New member Tom Fanning (Pelham) abstained. The response will be forwarded to the state attorney general.

Public Comment Shows Support For Morris
Several email and voicemail comments received by the RSC urged them to await the results of the ongoing Title IX investigation about anti-LGBTQIA+ activities that allegedly occurred at ARMS over the past two years, before making personnel decisions. Wendy Kohler, Ginny Hamilton, Ellen Story, and Karen Dimock acknowledged the severity of the accusations, but noted that the investigations should be completed before any actions are taken. Comments from Matt Blumenfeld, Pam Szczesny, Farah Ameen, and John McCabe cited Morris’ long and competent service to the district.

At the meeting, the emailed comments were slowly scrolled through, but were not read aloud. The question of how to present submitted comments was a subject of discussion at the May 16 and the June 23 meetings when they were read aloud, contrary to usual policy. Demling said, “We’ve gotten a little too quick to suspend policy, based on the tenor of the people in the room. We should not act due to pressure.” But RSC member Anna Heard noted the concerns raised for visually impaired and non-native English speakers by the policy of scrolling through the comments. Allison McDonald pointed out that review of the public comment policy has been referred to the policy subcommittee and is being revamped, and no further discussion occurred at this meeting.

Demling Reelected As Chair Of Union 26 School Committee
Demling was unanimously reelected as chair of the Union 26 school Committee. Sarah Hall (Pelham) was unanimously chosen as vice chair. They were the only nominees for the positions.  (Demling and Hall abstained rather than voting for themselves.)

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