McDonald resigns as chair of Amherst School Committee

  • Allison McDonald resigned Thursday as chair of Amherst School Committee, saying she can no longer deal with character smears, allegations of corruption and “vitriol and distraction.” file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2023 3:25:46 PM
Modified: 8/24/2023 3:25:19 PM

AMHERST — Character smears, allegations of corruption and “vitriol and distraction” are being cited by Amherst School Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald as playing into her decision to resign from her elected position immediately.

McDonald, who submitted her resignation to the town clerk’s office Thursday after informing her colleagues the day before, is the second Amherst representative to resign this week. Ben Herrington, who had chaired the Regional School Committee since January 2022, announced his departure Monday.

Both resignations come less than a week after the Amherst-Pelham and Union 26 school committees and Superintendent Michael Morris announced a separation agreement in which he will step down from his position effective Aug. 31. Morris’s departure comes in the midst of an ongoing Title IX investigation and associated investigations into allegations of gender-based bullying and mistreatment of LGBTQ students at the middle school, and the lack of response from the administration to put an end to it.

McDonald, in an email to Morris, Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Town Council President Lynn Griesemer, wrote that it has been a great honor to serve the town and school community, and expressed gratitude to voters for electing her three times.

“While I’ve endured the challenging and at times toxic climate of Amherst public life, I am no longer able to do so,” McDonald wrote. “I hope that Amherst will move forward and commit to dynamic civic dialogue without the vitriol that’s characterized this past year, and I look forward to contributing to our community in other capacities.”

In a statement accompanying her resignation, McDonald cited accomplishments by the school committees and districts, including the successful bid for Massachusetts School Building Authority funding for a new elementary school building to replace both Fort River and Wildwood schools, the creation of the Caminantes dual-language program, and the change in school start times to better support adolescent learning.

McDonald also offered her support to the LGTBQ students.

“The reports of harm experienced by trans and queer students at the middle school are upsetting and heartbreaking, and the allegations of misconduct by some staff are disturbing,” McDonald wrote. “Like my colleagues on the school committee, I volunteer my time because I care about our students and our schools, and hearing these reports and allegations about the district we serve is deeply unsettling.”

Peter Demling, an Amherst representative who has served alongside McDonald for several years, calls her caring, generous and deeply compassionate, and the hardest working person he’s ever seen in public service.

“It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of her effort as Chair of both the Amherst and Regional School Committees for more than 100 open meetings in the first year of COVID; then leading our districts through intense contract negotiations; and then working tirelessly to ensure the School Building Project crossed the finish line.”

“She did not deserve the level of sustained public vitriol, personal attacks and outright hostility from those who disagreed with her.”

McDonald elaborated on how continuing her service would have meant sacrificing her own well-being and that of her family “in the face of angry and bullying factions bent on destroying the personal character and reputation of anyone who dares to not do as they command.”

“Amherst likes to brag about its outspoken residents and vigorous debate. In reality, though, we invest our energy into debating whether this person is of higher moral character or more progressive than that person, rather than how we can accomplish the change we all want to see,” she wrote.

She also observes the problems of The Amherst-Pelham Education Association, the union representing teachers, paraprofessionals and clerical staff, through “smears and ridicule of the personal character and values of school committee members.”

“Another ugly habit in Amherst is the extent to which misinformation, outright falsehoods, and allegations of corruption and conspiracy are used to argue a position and engage the public behind one’s opinion. Using misinformation, falsehoods, or allegations of corruption is not unique in politics or local government, but Amherst thrives on this in a way that is breathtaking.”

“I hope that Amherst will move beyond this crisis and commit to dynamic civic dialogue without the vitriol and distraction that’s characterized the past year. Our students and our community deserve better.”

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