Amherst, Pelham school leaders: Criminal background checks for staff incomplete

  • Interim regional Superintendent Doug Slaughter was among the school leaders who issued a statement Wednesday revealing that staff background checks appear to have been “inconsistently conducted” over the past 20 months. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2023 11:49:23 AM
Modified: 9/28/2023 11:48:35 AM

AMHERST — An unspecified number of employees in the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools may have been working directly with students for the past two school years without appropriate background checks in violation of state law, according to a press release issued by the school district Wednesday.

“As leaders, we understand and appreciate that members of the community are calling for an increase in transparency from our school districts,” reads the email sent by the central office. “In an effort to show our commitment to meeting the community’s expectations, we are writing to disclose that the districts’ employment records do not consistently reflect whether the districts have conducted certain background checks of their employees.”

The email is signed by interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter, Human Resources Administrator Kathryn Mazur and those who chair the various school committees, including Sarahbess Kenney for the region, Margaret Stancer for Pelham and Irv Rhodes for Union 26.

“We want to emphasize that we have no reason to believe that any individual employed by the districts presents any risk to children or staff,” the statement reads.

The correspondence notes that state law requires all school districts to conduct criminal background checks of state records, as well as national records through the FBI, for employees who have unmonitored contact with children.

In addition, Massachusetts law requires that school districts review state criminal records, or Criminal Offender Record Information, every three years and, since last spring, school districts must review information from the state sex offender registry.

“Based on an ongoing internal audit of our records, we cannot be confident that CORI and fingerprint background checks have consistently been conducted over the past 20 months,” the letter states. “We are currently in the process of bringing the districts into compliance and expect this process to be complete by Jan, 1, 2024.”

Mazur has come out of retirement to lead the human resources department, which had previously been led by Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham until she was placed on paid administrative leave by Slaughter in May.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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