In the July 26th, 2023 Mass Live article, “Amherst rally scheduled to support LGBTQ youth, pressure school committee,” I, along with Ali Wicks-Lim, drew attention to the fact that Amherst’s Assistant Superintendent of Schools Doreen Cunningham, a Black woman, was placed on administrative leave while multiple Title IX investigations, as well as other investigations that fall outside of Title IX jurisdiction, are ongoing, while Superintendent Michael Morris, a White man, was able to freely return from his medical leave without question. Given that Morris is Cunningham’s boss, and that he blatantly lied to the public when he said that he had no knowledge of the allegations of mistreatment at the middle school, when he had, in fact, already received multiple complaints from staff, as well as a Title IX complaint filed by a parent, this is the very definition of inequity. Many other community members have publicly expressed similar opinions.
Ben Herrington, chair of the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee, is quoted as saying, “It is white people telling you this, essentially asserting the idea that the School Committee and that I, a Black man, and a single dad living here in Amherst, I’m part of some racist conspiracy against Black people,” he said.
To be clear, I do not believe that Mr. Herrington, nor any other person of color in Amherst, is part of a racist conspiracy against Black people. Indeed, I do not think that Cunningham being placed on leave has anything to do with her race. I believe it is the direct and appropriate consequence of the allegations she is facing due to her own actions. I am also aware that the School Committee is not responsible for having placed Cunningham on leave.
However, Michael Morris, as a White man in a position of power, should be held to the same level of accountability, and that is what I was speaking to in my original quote. The School Committee does have a role in this—and lest my words be taken out of context—no, I do not believe Mr. Herrington personally is giving Morris more leeway due to his race. That is a systemic issue. What I do question is how it is not a conflict of interest for Mr. Herrington to be involved in the decision making of whether or not Morris should be placed on leave. Mr. Herrington is the Assistant Director of Facilities at the Middle School.
As a frequent attendee and public commenter at school committee meetings since May, my impression is that Mr. Herrington has been thoughtful and engaged, truly listening to community members, whether he has agreed with us or not. This is something we, the community, have not found to be consistently true of all committee members. I appreciate the difficult and nuanced position Herrington is in, and my hope is for ongoing, respectful dialogue.
Given the demographics of families comprising the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, it is safe to assume that there are many White little boys and young men in our schools who will go on to hold positions of power as adults. All one has to do is read the trending news stories across the nation on any given day to see that cisgender, heterosexual, White men of middle and wealthy class standing enjoy many more privileges with fewer repercussions when they misstep than the rest of us enjoy. I would like these boys and young men, for once and in their own backyards, to receive the message that when they cause harm to others, they will be held accountable for their actions.
M.J Schwartz is a resident of Amherst.