The following public comment was offered at the joint meeting of the Regional School Committee and the Union 26 School Committee on August 24, 2023.
I am saddened by the RSC’s rebuff of my own and others’ calls for face-to-face meetings during this crisis. That refusal has contributed to acrimony, sadness, and mistrust in our community. I think adopting a stance of curiosity and vulnerability in times of strife and conflict can be a bridge to healing, and such states are enabled by in-person interactions and undermined by remote communications. I nevertheless hope my own curiosity and vulnerability are apparent as I offer sincere questions.
First, a yes-or-no question on which every other thought and feeling I have about this crisis hinges:
Do you believe the ARPS students, parents, teachers, and staff who say their repeated requests for help protecting trans and queer children at ARMS during the 2022/2023 school year were ignored or minimized by the district administration?
Peter Demling’s statement after Superintendent Morris’s resignation doesn’t directly answer this question, but it voices his belief that there was “a rush to judge and condemn [Morris] without a complete set of facts.” Peter was clear he spoke only for himself, so I reframe my first question to maintain a focus on the affected children and their families and ask the rest of you:
1.Do you believe the parents and children who came forward are lacking “a complete set of facts” about their own experiences?
2. Do you think parents are lying about their attempts to get help from the district administration?
3. Do you think children’s experiences of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and hospitalization were fabricated? Or that they can be explained away as arising from…some other reason?
As of this writing, the Title IX investigation report isn’t complete. How the RSC handles the delivery of the report is a new opportunity for repair. My additional questions follow:
4. Can you please publicly and thoroughly describe how the Title IX investigator was hired?
5. Is it true the investigation’s cost will be close to $50,000? If not, what is the projected cost?
6. Why did the district assume this cost instead of engaging in what I understand would’ve been a free, impartial process through the Department of Education? (And am I wrong in that understanding?)
7. Who will receive the Title IX report and be empowered to take action on its findings should past and current staff members be found responsible for violations of students’ rights?
8. Specifically: will Dr. Morris be involved in receiving and reviewing the Title IX report? If so, what is the RSC’s rationale for why this would be appropriate and effective?
9. Will the full Title IX report be made public, while redacting the names of children?
10. Why was Dr. Morris given a 6-figure severance package before the results of the investigation were delivered?
11. How does the package and the joint statement issued by Dr. Morris and the RSC claiming “no wrongdoing” on his part fail to amount to a “rush to judgement” in his favor “without a full set of facts?”
12. What will the hiring process for the next superintendent be?
13.. How will you ensure there is diverse representation on the hiring committee—including BIPOC, trans, and queer voices?
14. As the RSC reorganizes under new leadership and as we anticipate November elections, will you commit to transparency in your meetings and votes in an effort to rebuild trust with the community?
If you do believe the children and parents, I implore you to put that belief at the very center of everything you say and do to respond the fast-moving, terribly difficult circumstances now facing our school district. To paraphrase another part of Peter Demling’s statement from a different vantage point: You as an elected body would do well to realize the long-term negative impact of failing to center these children and families when deciding the future direction of our public schools.
Megan St. Marie, is a resident of Amherst and parent of seven past and current ARPS students, dating back to 2004.