School Committee Chairs Delay Access to Report on LGBTQ Harassment


Photo: Screen shot / Amherst Media

Enter Executive Session Regarding “Confidential Personnel Matter”

The Union 26 Committee and the Regional School Committee (RSC) met in the high school library on Thursday evening, October 12. The meeting posting 48 hours prior indicated that a vote to enter executive session would be held about a personnel matter. The agenda stated: 

“Vote to enter Executive Session under M.G.L. c. 30A, section 21(a)(1) “to discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual” without returning to open session.” 

According to an email from Chair Sarahbess Kenney to the RSC, the meeting was called because “We are in receipt of the investigative non-Title IX report that was requested by the regional school committee. This report looked into allegations that the District failed to appropriately address allegations of misconduct toward LBGTQIA+ students and whether certain ARPS staff members violated ARPS policies.” 

About a dozen community members greeted RSC members as they arrived for the meeting, holding up signs in the hallway that read “Equity,” “Transparency,” “Accountability,” “Release the Reports,” and “We’ll Remember in November.” They also asked committee members – some of whom acknowledged the public and others who did not make eye contact but proceeded directly into the library – to release the reports. Once the meeting began, the members of the public silently attended the meeting while still holding up their signs. Public comment was not permitted. 

Link to video of the meeting

In attendance were Kenney (RSC Chair), Irv Rhodes (Union 26 Chair), Jennifer Shiao, Katie Lazdowski, Roger Wallace, and Gabriela Weaver (Amherst), William Sherr (Pelham), and Anna Heard (Shutesbury); Tilman Wolf (Leverett) and Margaret Stancer (Pelham) were absent. 

Once the meeting was called to order, Kenney immediately made a motion to move into executive session. A discussion of the motion ensued, beginning with RSC Vice Chair Shiao noting that the two Chairs, Kenney and Rhodes, had received the report – 119 pages of materials on the issue to be discussed – a full week earlier, on October 5, whereas the rest of the committee members had been granted access just two days before the meeting, on October 10.

Shiao stated, “I would strongly urge that in the future the chairs and any chairs keep in mind your obligation to help school committee members be successful in our role. We all have many other responsibilities, including our families, our day jobs, and other commitments. To withhold the documentation from us and then ask us to read and digest it in two days and then participate in an executive session, when the chairs have had the material for a week, is not appropriate and not acceptable.”

Rhodes responded that Shiao and another, unnamed committee member, came to the district office on Tuesday, October 10, where the reports were available to be read on site, and each took a copy with them. He stated, “I’m upset about it because it directly goes against the authorities of the chair and especially since we were dealing with a highly sensitive matter, highly confidential material and that we had the duty to protect the district from any possible liability.” 

Sherr echoed Shiao, saying that when he was at the office reading the documents, he had reached out to the chairs to ask about the possibility of signing a waiver to take the documents. According to Sherr, while one chair said they would look into it, “the other chair basically said no.” 

As discussion of the motion wound up, Lazdowski commented, “Some of us may be more prepared than others and the timing does play an impact.” She questioned the delay in making the documents available to the full committee, suggesting that arrangements could have been made by Friday, October 6. 

Both committees proceeded to vote 8-1 in favor of entering executive session, with Lazdowski the dissenting vote. The committee members adjourned to an undisclosed location to conduct the remainder of the meeting.

As of this posting, neither the District nor the RSC has disclosed the specific topic or outcome of the executive session to the public. The RSC only has jurisdiction over the superintendent’s office, which includes former Superintendent Michael Morris, who is no longer employed by the District, and Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham, who has been on administrative leave since the spring of 2023. 

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