Little of Title IX Report Expected to be Shared with Public


Joint Meeting of the Pelham, Amherst Regioanl, and Union 26 School Committees on September 19, 2023. L-R. Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter, Regional School Committee Chair Sarahbess Kenney and Pelham School Committee member William Scherr. Photo: Screen shot, Amherst Media.

Report On The Meeting of the Regional, Pelham, and Union 26 School Committees, September 19, 2023

This meeting was recorded and can be viewed here.

At the joint meeting of the Regional School Committee (RSC), the Pelham School Committee, and the Union 26 School Committee on September 19, Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter said that complainants and respondents have received a draft of the Title IX report regarding the alleged bullying of gay and trans youth at the Amherst Regional Middle School. The complainants and respondents have 10 days to comment, ask questions, and provide commentary. The tenth day will be September 28. This initial report will make a determination as to whether Title IX was violated. A second report will deal with personnel actions.

Slaughter said that Title IX and personnel reports will contain personnel information, so the school system needs to be conscientious about what can be made public and that he will work with counsel to ensure that no personnel rights are violated. He said he will make anything he can public, but that it most likely will be “pretty limited,” and that anything released publicly will be heavily redacted. “The public probably won’t be happy,” he said.

If the reports involve any actions by former Superintendent Mike Morris or Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham, who is on paid administrative leave, those aspects may come before the school committees (SC), but will be dealt with in executive session. He added that, for now, the schools are to take what is learned from the reports and change district policies and processes to remedy problems that have occurred.

RSC member and Union 26 Chair Irv Rhodes lamented that the committee would not have more information to fulfill its role of oversight of the superintendent. “Since we won’t have the information, we can’t see if policies were violated,” he said. “Our hands are tied. We do not have control of the ship we are charged with guiding. We have to assume that there were breakdowns in command and control and that early warning systems were not in place. How do we explain to public that we don’t know?”

Slaughter said he understands the frustration expressed, but the SC and public will have to trust that he and the small number of staff who have the information are taking appropriate actions. In addition to him, the Title IX coordinator and the principal of the middle school will receive the report. He said he probably will be able to make a statement as to whether there was a determination of responsibility in the report. Because Cunningham was in charge of hiring for the district and her assistant is on maternity leave, former HR Director Kathy Mazur has returned from retirement to help fill vacant positions.

SC member Bill Sherr from Pelham said that, because the SC won’t get clarity from the report, it has to “stand up and find out where the breakdown was.” He added that, because the SC opted to wait until the Title IX report was in to examine the policy and process failures, it is now late in the game with the new school year having started.

Jennifer Shiao and Rhodes agreed, saying it is critical to know what was missing in previous policies in order to protect students, and to know what steps could be put in place to remedy the situation. Shutesbury SC member Anna Heard said she hopes that the new policies will specify who will handle complaints if the person in charge is suspected of malfeasance. Slaughter said that the district will need to put in a system of checks and balances similar to what exists in the Finance Department, where the person who writes checks cannot sign them.

The Title IX  and personnel reports are expected to be finalized in October or November.

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2 thoughts on “Little of Title IX Report Expected to be Shared with Public

  1. I recently spoke with a teacher who said, “Problems in Amherst are always swept under the rug, as was the case for years in the middle school.” We are paying a number of expensive employees not to work and the lawyers, who say we don’t get to know the findings of the investigation we are also paying for. Will this also be swept under the rug while our taxes continue to be used to support bad hires? The idea that the school committee can’t see the report is insane.

  2. This announcement that the Title IX report will not be openly shared continues a pattern we have seen among some elected officials in town. They become insulted when their actions are questioned. They even claim to be the victim of bullying. These officials expect us, the public, to trust them and take their word that things are fine and all is as it should be.

    Well, there were credible allegations that things at the Middle School were in violation of Title IX. There were credible allegations that children were being bullied and school officials were not responding as required by law. Now, top officials are telling us, the public, that we need to trust them to act correctly, while information about what actually transpired is not shared with the taxpayers. Again, we are expected to trust them to do the right thing.

    Let me point out that trust is a by-product of past behavior. It is like the wake of a boat, something that follows what has occurred. Trust is established when people’s actions meet expectations. In the absence of such evidence, it is prudent to withhold trust. As they say, words are cheap. What matters are actions. When the words match the actions, trust is built.

    We are, once again, being urged accept the assurances of school officials that they will do the right thing in response to the report of the Title IX investigation. That is not sufficient for me at all. The purpose of the investigation should be to clearly document for public what transpired. The audience of the report should be the taxpayers who choose those who should be carrying out the wishes of the taxpayers. Instead, we are being treated in a paternalistic manner. “Just trust us to do the right thing. If you question our words or past actions, you are bullying us.”

    I am not swayed by those who say that public discourse in Amherst is too strident. The public school system operates at the expense of taxpayers. We have a right to know how those monies are being spent. We have a right to know whether the school officials are fulfilling the policies of the town as well as state and federal law. When things occur that call that into question, it is incumbent on public officials and school administrators to demonstrate that they are now acting in accord with town policies and state and federal law. The proven way to demonstrate that is way to do that is to act transparently.

    Acting transparently begins by explaining what transpired. There is a long history of public accountings for illegalities that have occurred at all levels of government across the country. Names are named and the public is informed. There is then a public discussion about how to repair the damage that has been done, and how to safeguard against it in the future. If those in office now refuse to do that, then I see no reason to keep them in office. I want administrators and elected officials who treat the public as their bosses, for whom they work. I have zero interest in seeing paternalistic individuals do as they see fit, while keeping the public uninformed about the state of the institution for whom they are stewards.

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