With thanks to Regional School Committee member Irv Rhodes.
Distrust, hurt, confusion, frustration, blame, fear…negative feelings abound amidst the crisis in the Amherst Regional Public Schools (ARPS) community. I think that open, direct communication can help ease tensions and foster repair, but only if we all have access to as much information as possible. So, since July 31, I’ve been keeping a press list on my author website with stories and opinion pieces I’ve found related to the crisis in ARPS. (Admittedly, a children’s literature site is an odd place to host this information, but it’s the space I could offer. As I’ve told many people, I feel no sense of ownership in this work, so it’s fine with me if people grab the links to share elsewhere.) There are over 200 pieces linked on the press list so far, not all of which I personally endorse. I started maintaining the list because I heard from many people (at kids’ activities, in the grocery store, on walks in my neighborhood, and at work) that they knew something was going on, but they hadn’t really looked into it.
Even those of us who have done a lot of “looking into it” have been frustrated in attempts to find information, particularly around the Title IX report. On August 31, 2023, I submitted a public comment to the Regional School Committee (RSC) to try to get answers to some of the questions I’ve been mulling over. Amherst School Committee member and Union 26 Chair Irv Rhodes, continuing to demonstrate his commitment to transparency and democracy, worked diligently to find answers to those questions. He has given me permission to share the following email he received with answers to those questions, and I give him enormous gratitude.
I am one person, one mother, one voter, and I do not want to hold this information myself. So I am sharing these answers with the public here. While they may prompt more questions, I hope they will provide some clarity, as well.
—— Forwarded message ———
From: Debbie Westmoreland <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, Sep 6, 2023 at 2:51 PM
Subject: Re: Questions
To: Irv Rhodes <email@example.com>
Cc: Margaret Stancer <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Sarabess Kenney <email@example.com>, Doug Slaughter <SlaughterD@arps.org>
The information you requested is below in blue (here bold ) text. I’ve copied the other chairs in this email since I assume they will also need this information. Please let me know if you need anything else.
1. Will you please publicly describe how the Title IX investigator was hired, and by whom?
The day the formal Title IX complaint was received, Dr. Marta Guevara, Title IX coordinator, spoke to Superintendent Michael Morris and recommended that the District hire a neutral, outside investigator to conduct the investigation. Dr. Morris suggested Ed Mitnik of Just Training Solutions because there was very positive feedback regarding training Mr. Mitnik had provided several years ago to all district staff regarding Title IX and non-discrimination, particularly toward protected classes. Dr. Guevara made the initial contact with Mr. Mitnik by phone to determine his suitability and availability to conduct the investigation. She then recommended hiring Mr. Mitnik, and the contract with Just Training Solutions was processed by the Superintendent’s Assistant, Sasha Figueroa.
2. Is it true that the investigation’s cost will be close to $50,000? If not, what is the projected cost?
Current billing for Title IX and other investigations is at $71,224.95 (with the most recent bill arriving Friday 9/1) and there is additional reporting to be completed.
3. Why was this cost assumed by the district instead of engaging in what I understand would have been a free, impartial process through the Department of Education? (And am I wrong in that understanding?)
While the Department of education will investigate complaints made by a member of the public regarding issues under their jurisdiction, we are not aware of any such service on behalf of a school district that receives a Title IX complaint. We have also conferred with counsel and he indicated that the DOE does not conduct Title IX investigations for school districts.
4. 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?
Under state law, the building principal and/or superintendent have the authority to take action against the employees at issue in this case. They will receive the reports and be responsible for taking appropriate action.
5. I’ve heard that Dr. Morris will be involved in receiving and reviewing the Title IX report. Is this accurate? What is the RSC’s rationale for why this is appropriate—especially given the current lawsuits against the district and the APEA’s concerns about the potential for retaliation against teachers and staff who spoke up?
Dr. Morris will not be involved in receiving or reviewing the Title IX reports.
6. Will the full Title IX report be made public, while redacting the names of children?
While there are many legal restrictions related to release of information from the Title IX report, the District remains committed to transparency to the extent possible. Once the report is received, the District will consult with legal counsel to determine what portions of the report can legally be shared publicly.