Interim super: Title IX report on anti-LGBTQ actions at Amherst Regional Middle School won’t be public

  • Amherst Regional Middle School FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2023 6:06:10 PM
Modified: 9/20/2023 6:05:29 PM

AMHERST — As a Title IX and associated investigations into alleged mistreatment of trans and nonbinary students at the Amherst Regional Middle School draw to a close, the interim superintendent is informing the Regional School Committee that he anticipates scant information from the final reports to be disclosed publicly.

Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter told committee members Tuesday that because the completed investigations will be considered personnel records, the district will be limited in what can be disseminated without exposing the district to liability.

“We’re still working on what can and can’t be made public,” Slaughter said.

He suggested committee members should not get their hopes up that the reports will provide new revelations to the community, and even in executive session he will be limited in what he can share with committee members, though they may be apprised of certain information specific to their role in oversight of the superintendent.

“I would plan to have not really much of anything in regards to these Title IX reports,” Slaughter said, explaining that because of the way they are constructed and structured, there are challenges to even redact portions.

Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities.

Attorney Ed Mitnick, executive director of Just Training Solutions, has been looking into the alleged mistreatment of trans and nonbinary students at the middle school since last spring, when counselors at the middle school were reported to have engaged in transphobic actions, didn’t intervene when gender-based bullying was occurring, and attempted to introduce prayer into the building. Three staff members were placed on leave, as was Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham, who had been in charge of human resources.

Superintendent Michael Morris resigned from his position at the end of August after facing criticism from some in the community over his handling of the reported mistreatment of LGBTQ students. His departure came with a joint statement with leaders of the Regional and Amherst school committees that there was no wrongdoing on his part. Morris told school committee members that his leadership was untenable under the circumstances and that, even if cleared by the Title IX and other investigations, there would be lack of trust in that outcome.

Slaughter said a formal cover letter from Mitnick is going to the complainants and respondents, with a 10-day period in which they can ask questions and provide feedback ending on Sept. 28. The next step will be a determination of whether Title IX was violated or not, and then there will be a similar 10-day period for appeal. Once that is over, personnel actions can be taken, as specified in contracts or collective bargaining agreements.

While Slaughter, as well as principal Talib Sadiq and Title IX coordinator Marta Guevara, and Human Resources Director Kathy Mazur, will be privy to the information in the reports, even the cover letter is considered a personnel record that the district will shield from public view.

Still, Slaughter said practices could change and that would be visible to the community.

“Our intention is we take the things we learn and we will be learning about what happened, good, bad or otherwise, and get better at and make the changes and alterations to processes and procedures and approach to things to be a better district,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter, though, couldn’t say if Cunningham or Morris are the subject of specific Title IX violations, but just from a chain-of-command standpoint, he expects their names to be included in the reports.

“The assistant superintendent and superintendent will be mentioned in the report. To what extent I don’t know, I wasn’t interviewed by the investigator,” Slaughter said

For members of the Regional School Committee, the privacy around the Title IX investigations is not a positive outcome.

“This hits me really hard,” said Amherst representative Irv Rhodes. He said there had been assumption that committee members and the public would have access to more information. He said this makes it difficult to tell a new superintendent to change processes and procedures.

Rhodes likened this to a board of directors being blinded to what the operational side is doing

“It’s not good, it doesn’t feel good,” Rhodes said. “It feels like our hands are tied in such a way that we don’t have command of the ship we’re supposed to have command of.”

Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao wondered if some form of redacted report or a press release could come out.

“That is an ongoing request,” Slaughter said. “It’s a tough spot.”

Pelham representative William Sherr said with Title IX and other investigations likely not to be made public, the committee will have to stand up and figure out where the breakdown was so such actions don’t happen again.

“There’s clarity that there was harm felt by the kids and there’s clarity that we need to look at policies regardless of the Title IX outcome,” Sherr said.

Slaughter said he is committed to put systems in place to not have mistreatment happen again or even questions raised about how students are treated.

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