School boards call sudden executive session on Morris

  • Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools Superintendent Michael Morris. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2023 2:45:01 PM

AMHERST — Members of the Amherst Regional School Committee and Union 26 Committee are holding a joint virtual meeting, almost entirely in executive session, on Thursday evening, for the purpose of preparing for unspecified negotiations with Superintendent Michael Morris.

The committees’ posting for the meeting cites the state’s Open Meeting Law that allows them “to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel, Michael Morris, with no intention of returning to open session.”

The session was added to Amherst’s online calendar of public meetings on Wednesday afternoon. The next regularly scheduled Regional School Committee meeting, which will include public comments, is supposed to be next Tuesday, likely at 6:30 p.m., at the Amherst Regional High School Library.

The joint virtual meeting was called by Amherst representative Peter Demling, who chairs the Union 26 Committee, and Amherst representative Ben Herrington, who chairs the Regional Committee. Demling said the agenda will not change or be added to at this point.

Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao, who has a blog providing the public information about committee business, wrote that she was  informed by email from Herrington and Demling only that the meeting would be happening.

“You may be wondering, ‘What is this all about?’ I am wondering the same,” Shiao wrote. “I have not been given any other information by Chairs Demling or Herrington about what this last-minute meeting will be about. I was not contacted ahead of time as to whether I am available to attend.”

The meeting comes about a month after Morris returned from a two-month medical leave, which prompted calls from some in the community, including those who organized a rally outside Morris’ office at the Amherst Regional Middle School, for the committee to hold a special meeting to address the status of Morris as superintendent after reported mistreatment of LGBTQ students at the middle school and allegations that gender-based bullying was not being stopped.

That led to a Title IX complaint over a lack of intervention. Additional investigations are underway into the actions of middle school counselors and the responsibility of Morris and Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham in hiring them.

The Amherst Pelham Education Association, the union representing teachers, paraeducators and clerical staff, took a vote of no confidence in Morris a day after he stepped aside and also called for Cunningham, the assistant superintendent for  Diversity, Equity and Human Resources, to resign her position.

Shiao, too, has made public and private requests to have a special meeting.

The committees previously held joint meetings in mid-May when Morris began his medical leave, appointing Douglas Slaughter, the school’s finance chief, as the temporary superintendent.

At those meetings, there was significant feedback from community members questioning the schools’ leadership, with some calling for Morris and Cunningham to be fired or placed on leave. Cunningham was later placed on leave by Slaughter and has since filed a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint against the district.

Meanwhile, Morris has unveiled a series of strategies aimed at making the schools a welcoming learning environment for all students.

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