School Committee Embraces New Approaches to Bullying and Harassment. Approves Plan for Track and Field Renovation


Photo: Welcoming Schools

Report on the Joint Meeting of the Pelham, Union 26, Amherst, and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees.

The meeting was held in hybrid format and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.

Present: Sarahbess Kenney (Chair, Regional School Committee; Pelham), Anna Heard (Shutesbury), Irv Rhodes (Amherst), Sarah Marshall (Amherst), Deb Leonard (Amherst), Bridget Hynes (Amherst), Jennifer Shiao (Amherst), William Scherr (Pelham). Tilman Wolf (Leverett) participated remotely. Rhodes left the meeting early.

Nine members of the public streamed the meeting.

The bulk of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of new initiatives to address bullying and harassment, and a discussion of the track and field design. Other matters discussed included approval of a new contract for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), public comment, evaluation of the superintendent, and a brief discussion of impacts of cuts to the World Languages Program.

Prior to taking up the agenda, members offered praise and appreciation for Debbie Westmoreland, Director of Communications and Operations, on her retirement.


  • After adjourning twice during the meeting to conduct collective bargaining sessions with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the committee voted  to adopt the UFCW Memorandum of Agreement. The draft MOA can be read here.
  • Conducted a first reading of the proposed new anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies in the schools and offered feedback to the subcommittee.
  • Approved unanimously (8-0 with Rhodes absent) a motion to encourage the new superintendent to implement the Welcoming Schools Program for the coming year, for grades 7-12, as an educational intervention to address bullying and harassment in the schools.
  • Voted unanimously (8-0 with Rhodes absent) to direct the Interim superintendent to have SLR, Inc. develop designs for Option “3C” for the track and field renovation (eight-lane track reoriented north-south with a grass infield and an additional  athletic field added to the west) and to structure the bid documents to include “add alternates” to provide project flexibility relative to available funding.

First Reading of Anti-bullying and Anti harassment Policies

The Regional School Committee (RSC) raised questions and offered suggestions to the final draft of the proposed anti-bullying (see here for version highlighting additions and deletions) and anti-harassment policies. The anti-bullying policy incorporated substantial guidance from guidelines provided by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC). William Sherr, who chaired the subcommittee, pointed out that both policies had been reviewed by legal counsel at least twice and approved.

The documents offer the following definitions of bullying and harassment and provide guidelines concerning retaliation, assistance to targets of bullying, prevention and intervention, reporting, investigation, appeals, education and training, and notifications. A vote to adopt these policies has not been scheduled.

Bullying is defined as the repeated use by one or more students or a member of a school staff of a written, oral, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at another individual or individuals (hereinafter target) that:

1. causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damages the target’s property,

2. places the target in reasonable fear of harm to themselves, or damage to their property,

3. creates a hostile environment at school for the target,

4. infringes on the rights of the target at school, or

5. substantially and materially disrupts the education process or orderly operation of a school.

Examples of bullying include but are not limited to:

1. Intimidation, either physical or psychological (in person or via an electronic device)

2. Threats of any kind, stated or implied (in person or via an electronic device)

3. Assaults, whether verbal, physical, psychological, or emotional

4. Attacks on student property

5. Demeaning names or phrases directed at an individual student

6. Touching another individual in a demeaning manner

Cyberbullying is bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but shall not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages, or facsimile communications.

Cyberbullying also includes:

1. the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person.

2. the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the five conditions listed above in the definition of bullying.

3. the distribution by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an electronic medium that may be accessed by one or more persons, if the distribution or posting creates any of the five conditions listed above in the definition of bullying.

Bullying and cyber-bullying may occur in and out of school, during and after school hours, at home and in locations outside of the home.

For the purpose of this Policy, whenever the term bullying is used it is to denote both bullying and cyber-bullying.

Bullying is prohibited in all cases in which it:

• creates a hostile environment at school for the target;

• infringes on the rights of the target at school; and/or

• materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.

Retaliation is any form of intimidation, reprisal, or harassment directed against a student who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.

Harassment prohibited by the Districts includes, but is not limited to, harassment on the basis of the following:

● race

● ancestry

● children

● marital status

● color

● national origin

● sex

● sexual orientation

● gender identity

● pregnancy or pregnancy condition

● receiving public assistance

● disability

● homelessness

● religion

● veteran status

● age

● immigration status

● any category protected by state or federal law

Employee-to-Student Harassment is defined as conduct of a written, verbal or physical nature that embarrasses, distresses, agitates, disturbs or troubles students when:

• Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a student’s education or of a student’s participation in school programs or activities; or

• Submission to or rejection of such conduct by a student is used as the basis for decisions affecting the student. Or any other conduct that has the effect of unreasonably interfering with a student’s performance or emotional well-being, or creating an intimidating or hostile learning environment.

Student-to-Student Harassment is defined as conduct of a written, verbal, or physical nature that embarrasses, distresses, agitates, disturbs or troubles students, when:

• Such conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with a student’s performance or emotional well-being, or creating an intimidating or hostile learning environment.

Harassment as described above may include, but is not limited to any communication (including electronic) that is:

1. Of a demeaning nature

2. Implied or explicit threats

3. Demeaning jokes, stories, or activities

By law, what constitutes harassment is determined from the perspective of a reasonable person with the characteristic on which the harassment is based.


Sarah Marshall thought that too much procedure was specified in the proposals and that the policy should limit itself to, for example, stating that a bullying incident should be addressed by designated personnel within a specified time frame, but actions to follow should be left to those responsible for handling the complaints.

Bridget Hynes disagreed, saying, “We have too much concern in the district right now that bullying reports are not getting addressed properly and that we are not doing what is required, so it is better that we specify it.”

Sarahbess Kenney wanted to know what happens when harassment takes place in places where the district doesn’t have jurisdiction.

Jennifer Shiao suggested that the impact of harassment on the student is probably more important than the place where it  happens, especially in these times with the prominence of social media. And if harassment is happening outside of school, it’s probably happening in school as well, so it will be more consequential to focus on the impact, not the venue.

Marshall and Hynes raised concerns that the harassment policy is so vague that elements of the curriculum that make students uncomfortable (discussions of the Holocaust and the War in Gaza were offered as examples) could be deemed harassment. Similarly, Marshall wondered whether a student voicing a strong opinion that is hurtful to another is considered harassment under this policy.

The committee agreed to take concerns and suggestions raised at the meeting under consideration.

Title IX Investigative Reports Subcommittee
This subcommittee, consisting of William Sherr (Chair), Deb Leonard, Irv Rhodes, and Bridget Hynes, showed an introductory video from the Welcoming Schools Program, which is considered the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation. The program is sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and provides LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive professional development training, lesson plans, book lists, and resources specifically designed for educators and youth-serving professionals. The program uses an intersectional, anti-racist lens dedicated to actionable policies and practices. The aim is to uplift school communities with critical tools to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQIA+ and gender inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying, and support transgender and non-binary students.

The Crocker Farm early education program has piloted Welcoming Schools for the last three years — and was the first early education program in the nation to do so — joining 34 =schools for older children in implementing it.

Sherr reported that the subcommittee recommends that the middle school and high school adopt this program for the coming academic year and that they think it could make a significant impact here. They  also believe that it would show that we, as a district, are trying to get out in front of these issues.

Welcoming Schools offers a collection of training modules to be implemented each year (see here and here) across the three-year program.  The program would address several of the LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent, and race-based bullying issues that the district currently struggles with. The RSC responded with a unanimous vote to recommend to the new superintendent that the district adopt the program. Sherr advised that the program might cost $30,000 over three years and suggested that community fundraising could help defray the costs. Slaughter noted that there would be additional hours for staff to take the training and that the School Committee would have to work with the superintendent to arrange compensation for those hours.

Tilman Wolf objected to the motion to adopt the program, saying that it is not the RSC’s place to make curricular decisions.

Marshall felt that the subcommittee was overstepping its charge. She said that the district has a curriculum director and we don’t know what they are planning, nor how Welcoming Schools might fit in with the rest of the curriculum. She recommended bringing it to the curriculum director’s attention and asking her to consider how it might fit in.

Deb Leonard responded that the committee felt strongly about their unanimous recommendation. “We spent a lot of time talking about how to fulfill our charge and came to believe that we should recommend best practice to the RSC, based on what we have seen from the reports. Rather than call out the places where the system broke down, we sought ways to strengthen the system and implement best practices that are not currently in place.”

Anna Heard added that this is not exactly a curricular recommendation. “We’re not asking Mary Keily [the curriculum director] to adopt a new curriculum. We’re asking our new superintendent to adopt this new ‘feel’ for the school district. It’s a non-binding recommendation so it really doesn’t matter what we call it.”

Bridget Hynes added, “MASC says that one of the roles of the school committee is to foster/encourage professional development, which is what this program does.”

Marshall disagreed. “Maybe we should wait to have this discussion until [new Superintendent] Dr. [Ericilda Xiomara] Herman gets here,” she cautioned.

Sarahbess Kenney suggested that the RSC table the motion and invite Herman to attend a full presentation from Welcoming Schools.

Marshall asked Slaughter whether any professional development on these issues is already planned. He responded that if the RSC wants to make this recommendation, they need to start discussions about it shortly after Herman arrives next week. Marshall worried that putting this on her agenda upon arrival was not fair to her. Slaughter said that logistically the time is pretty tight to implement the program for the coming year but we can be creative about it and perhaps start it some time after the start of the school year.

Track and Field Design Discussion and Vote
Slaughter reported that the Amherst Town Council, in its meeting of June 17, 2024, removed the restrictions on the appropriation from Free Cash ($900,000) and the Community Preservation Act (CPA) appropriation of $800,000 for the track and fields project. “This allows considerable flexibility in which design we pursue,” he said. ““However, through discussions, and not a formal vote, the council indicated a preference for the design which has the north–south orientation (Option 3C). The Council did not vote for any additional funds to support the project but did encourage the district to pursue additional support via Community Preservation Act funds from each of the four member towns.”

Option 3c with a new grass athletic field. Photo:

He said that prior to the council meeting, the Amherst CPAC (Community Preservation Act Committee) met to provide recommendations to the Amherst Town Council regarding its previous award. At that meeting and in their  recommendations to the council, they indicated a willingness to take up an off-cycle CPA funding proposal in support of a north–south project design. “In the coming weeks,” he explained, “I will also re-engage the other communities regarding CPA funding for the project and inquire about whether there are options for an off-cycle proposal. If not, then we will pursue CPA proposals from those communities during their standard proposal process.”

He continued, “SLR has revised their calculations of the costs related to the three options presented to you on May 14th, 2024. With currently available funding, we are $932,175 short of fully funding Option 3C. As the design proceeds the conservative estimates which have been made will get more refined and the overall project cost may be reduced, helping mitigate the current shortfall in funding. However, there are also alternative ways to structure the project design and bidding to allow for securing the additional funding needed over time. As was presented to the Amherst Town Council there are a few items which can be modified, removed, or staged to allow funding to be secured at a later date. In the bidding process we can list ‘Add Alternates’, which can be accepted with the base bid and completed as part of the project if funding is available. Currently the Add Alternates are: Athletic Field Lighting, $350,000; Mattoon Street Curbing and Sidewalk $90,000; Ball Safety Netting $75,000; Football Goalposts $21,000; Concrete Bleacher Pad $40,000; Walkway Scope Reduction $?;  Chainlink Fencing; Scope Reduction $ 100,000 Total: $ 676,000″

“However, if funding is insufficient at the time of the primary bidding process, these “Add Alternates” can be skipped in the initial project without an overly significant impact and then completed later as funding becomes available. Additionally, the district has a Capital Stabilization Fund which may be utilized to provide a modest amount of support to the project as well. Although there is risk associated with moving forward with a design that lacks full funding of the construction, we have several options that will allow us to move forward with flexibility as we secure more funding”

Read SLR’s presentation on the track and field renovation here.

He recommended that the RSC move ahead with Option 3C, saying that this gives clear guidance to the designer and makes clear our funding needs. He said that while availability of funding to fulfill this option is still uncertain, he remains optimistic that the town can pull it off. He said that, in addition to the possibility of CPA funding, it might be possible to draw on the district’s Capital Stabilization Fund, which currently has a balance of around $400,000. He indicated that he will also fill out the forms to get requests for additional funding in front of the CPA committees of the other towns. Responsibility for this project will remain with Slaughter as such projects are conventionally the responsibility of the business office.

Leonard pointed out that maintenance expenses for the new grass field could be as high as $20,000/year

Slaughter responded that the schools have a maintenance budget for this, but also expect to share some expenses with the town. He said the critical question will be management of playing hours and keeping them within ranges of tolerance. “We’ve never had a field this sophisticated before, so this is new territory for us,” he said.

Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek added that the district will need to craft an MOU with the town to identify their respective responsibilities regarding field maintenance and scheduling.

Heard cautioned Slaughter not to over-ask in seeking funds from the other three towns. She advised him to, “limit your ask to what you had previously indicated you would ask for and no more.”

Public Comment
Sam McLeod (Chair, Community Preservation Act Committee) reported that the Town Council rescinded the north–south reorientation restriction that governed the renovation of the track and field but with a strong recommendation to pursue the northsouth reorientation option and a directive to return to the CPA to seek funding for that option. McLeod indicated that he would be willing to call a special meeting of CPA to take up such a request.

William Roundy (head of the World Languages Department at Amherst Regional High School) reported that the proposed language curriculum for next year will represent a 25% reduction in proficiency below state targets and at graduation, ARHS students will be far short of the hours and two proficiency levels below state targets.

Olivia Blaine, who teaches Latin at the middle and high school, also shared concerns about how the cuts to the language program at the Middle School would impact proficiency at graduation and asked that the cuts not be made. “We will not be teaching language according to best practices,” she said.

Language Cuts
Shiao asked Slaughter for clarification on the impacts of the language cuts. “You told us that you are going to make the cuts to world language but that they would not impact the ability of students to begin level 2 study at the high school. Public comments suggest that this would not be the case. Can we instruct the new superintendent that we would like to see the language cuts restored?” she asked. Shiao also noted that there was precedent for such a request when the Amherst School committee requested, apparently successfully, the restoration of fourth grade music instruction in Amherst elementary schools after it had been eliminated from the preliminary FY25 budget. 

Slaughter responded that it would be difficult from a scheduling standpoint to add back the world language cuts and that there are other needs for students that are higher priority. “We might be able to add back some of it but not all of it,” he said.

Superintendent Evaluation
The committee reviewed their evaluations of interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter. The overall evaluation of Slaughter by the RSC was “needs improvement” while the overall evaluation of the Amherst School committee was “proficient”. The evaluation was limited to the specific goals set for the interim superintendent shortly after he came on board.

Farewell to Slaughter
The meeting concluded with members of the RSC extending good wishes and appreciation to Slaughter, who will returning to his duties next week as the district’s Finance Director, noting that he has served under trying conditions.

Read the full evaluation of the RSC here and of the Amherst School Committee here.

Att their next meeting on July 2, the school committees with discuss establishing a budget and audit subcommittee as well as a possible response to the letter of warning (see also here) that they received from the Town Council this week.

Spread the love

1 thought on “School Committee Embraces New Approaches to Bullying and Harassment. Approves Plan for Track and Field Renovation

  1. I wanted to make a note about bullying and harassment, I’ll just generally call it violence. This has been common since basically the beginning time and an important issue, because this type of behavior makes permanent marks on young people, marks that will follow them in most cases for the rest of their lives. Because it is so rampant, I am not saying that the job of teachers and administrators is easy, they have many pots on the stove and trying to put a stop to bad behavior is difficult, but an important task.

    Also an issue, the mental health of young people, often it is so bad that it easy to spot and those that watch over our children should try and take steps to get these young people the help they need.

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.