The 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 the 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.
Michael Burkart is a resident of Amherst