Amherst Regional School Committee chief Herrington quits board

  • Ben Herrington, chairman of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee since January 2022, is resigning from both the regional and Amherst school committees. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/21/2023 5:29:49 PM
Modified: 8/21/2023 5:29:20 PM

AMHERST — Ben Herrington, chairman of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee since January 2022, is resigning from both the regional and Amherst school committees.

Herrington announced Monday that he would step down from the panels on which he has served for 3½ years, sending an email to his colleagues over the weekend, as well as notifying the Town Council of his intentions. The Town Council, according to the town charter, must hold a joint meeting with the Amherst School Committee within 45 days to appoint a successor.

Herrington said he made the decision to not run again earlier this year after determining that harsh dialogue in the community and in the schools, some of which began during the pandemic, wasn’t going away.

“I maintained a faith in humanity and a composure that there would be a return to normalcy,” Herrington said, adding that he saw that wasn’t going to change. “It is Amherst being Amherst.”

Herrington’s resignation comes just days after chairing a joint executive session, with the Union 26 Committee last Thursday, that led to Superintendent Michael Morris announcing he was resigning after seven years at the helm of the school districts. Herrington and Union 26 Chairman Peter Demling joined Morris in issuing a joint statement the following day.

Morris, who was on medical leave for two months earlier this year, departed as a Title IX investigation prompted by a complaint from a parent about alleged transphobic actions by middle school counselors against her child nears its conclusion. Aspects of that report may be released this week. There were also calls in the community, including at a July rally outside Morris’s office, demanding that Herrington call a Regional School Committee meeting about Morris following his return.

The Amherst Pelham Education Association took a no-confidence vote in Morris and demanded the resignation of Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham for her role in the alleged LGTBQ bullying at the middle school. Cunningham was placed on paid administrative leave by then temporary superintendent Douglas Slaughter in May.

As assistant director of facilities for the public schools, where he notes that can have direct impact on school safety and the well-being of students, Herrington earned election as an Amherst representative in 2019 in his second attempt, after narrowly losing a year earlier. He brought a background in construction and building maintenance, as a former combat engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers and a lead maintenance foreman at the Center For Extended Care.

At the time, Herrington said he also wanted to offer a voice for low-income residents and people who live in apartment complexes, where he has made his home with his two sons.

“If I were to say that I have loved every moment, well I’m certain that anyone who knows anything about me would know that that would be a blatant lie,” Herrington wrote in a statement. “However, it hasn’t been all bad. There were certainly moments where I could see a direct impact on kids. Those are the instances that have made it worth dealing with all of the peripheral noise.”

After being away from email for a week, as he ran a basketball camp for local children in which he got a sense of fulfillment and purpose that he hadn’t found in his elected role, he said the scrutiny he faced cemented his decision, noting he is not bitter or angry, and is, in fact, more focused.

“Coming home to a barrage of emails from a variety of people on both sides of a hot button issue offered me the opportunity to explore a few ideas, one of which was, ‘What if I just walked away from all of this and decided to focus on work that actually directly impacts the lives of kids?’ In all honesty, the thought alone felt like the weight of the world rising off of my shoulders,” he said.

Now, he doesn’t have to delve “into the minutia of local political discourse.” “I set out to continue a legacy my father held near and dear, and that is ‘affecting the future by being present in the lives of kids.’ My intention is to continue on that front and to leave everything else to others.”

Herrington also posted on his School Committee Facebook page. “The single greatest thing I did on school committee was giving a two minute speech before certifying the ARHS graduation and I already had the privilege of interacting with young folks on a day-to-day basis. I can’t count how many times our students have allowed me to be a bright light in their life and can’t begin to quantify how meaningful that has been for me.”

Another accomplishment is working toward the new elementary school that will replace Fort River. “It was important we get it right this time,” Herrington said. There has also been success in the Caminantes dual language program that he championed.

Demling issued a statement noting that the public criticism of Herrington turned more personal this year, and that stepping away to help children directly makes sense.

“Ben is a kind person with an enormous heart and it’s been an honor to serve with him,” Demling said. “I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the time and service he gave our community to help make our schools the best they could be.”

When filling the vacancy on the school committees, the person appointed, if running in the November election, will not be listed as an incumbent, where a growing field of candidates is emerging in advance of next month’s filing deadline.

This procedure was last used in April 2020, when Heather Hala Lord, a racial equity facilitator, joined the committees after Eric Nakajima submitted his resignation upon taking a job as director of government relations for the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

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


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