Pelham School Committee chairwoman Sarah Hall resigns

  • People rally to support Amherst Regional Public Schools LGBTQIA youth at Amherst Regional Middle School in Amherst in late July. Three Amherst School Committee members and the chairwoman of the Pelham School Committee have resigned their positions. Those who are resigning have cited concerns about personal attacks and character assassination in the fallout from an ongoing Title IX investigation into alleged mistreatment of LGBTQ students. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • SARAH HALL

Staff Writer
Published: 8/25/2023 4:48:14 PM

PELHAM — Pelham School Committee Chairwoman Sarah Hall recently resigned from her elected position, citing concerns about personal attacks and character assassination from a “small but vocal element” during the ongoing Title IX investigation into alleged mistreatment of LGBTQ students at Amherst Regional Middle School.

Hall, a member of the Union 26 Committee responsible for hiring the superintendent for the Pelham, Amherst-Pelham Regional and Amherst schools, submitted her resignation on Aug. 18, becoming the first of the leaders of three of the four committees that make up the governance structure for the Amherst, Pelham and Regional schools districts to depart.

Hall’s resignation came the morning after the Regional and Union 26 committees agreed with a request from Superintendent Michael Morris to step down on Aug. 31. Morris called his leadership untenable in the wake of a Title IX investigation and concerns in the community about whether the central office had done enough to intervene in the harms happening at the middle school.

“Regrettably, we have arrived at this place where community and school committee members have been forced to take of one of two positions: either they support LGBTQIA+ students or they support a fair and deliberate process for understanding what happened and how to move forward (and, by insinuation, are somehow anti-LGBTQIA+),” Hall wrote in a statement accompanying her resignation. “I feel strongly that not only is it possible to support both, but it is necessary.”

Since her resignation, Amherst representative Ben Herrington, who chaired the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee; Allison McDonald, who chaired the Amherst School Committee; and Peter Demling, a member of the Amherst and regional school committees, have all left their positions.

Irv Rhodes, an Amherst representative, is the current chairman of the Union 26 Committee.

Hall, on the Pelham committee since November 2017 and its chairwoman since November 2018, went on to explain her decision:

“I am no longer willing to volunteer my time and energy countering the small but vocal element of the community that focuses almost exclusively on their righteous outrage at the expense of authentic and lasting healing and progress in our districts. The understandably frustrating but unavoidable silence as we await the conclusion of the Title IX investigation has been filled with harmful rhetoric and personal attacks — which belie this element’s claims of civil, progressive discourse.”

“Such blatant attempts at character assassination in the absence of available public information have become the norm in this community, and fighting that force has almost completely detracted from the real work of ensuring student safety and achievement.”

During her tenure, though, Hall credited the thoughtful leadership of Morris, Douglas Slaughter, the district’s finance director, and principal Micki Darling for addressing the budget challenges facing small, rural school districts, putting the elementary school in a strong position to focus on teaching and learning.

Sarahbess Kenney, a Pelham representative who chairs the Regional School Committee, said Hall was an excellent member and will be missed.

“She ran thoughtful and efficient meetings with grace and a sense of humor even in our most challenging times,” Kenney said. “I completely understand and support her decision to step down.”

Hall said she takes pride in the School Committee’s 2019 vote in support of the “Let’s T.A.L.K.” curriculum, a first of its kind gender- and sexuality- inclusive curriculum that starts in kindergarten. Proposed by researchers from the University of Massachusetts, including a Pelham parent, and then subject to the district’s rigorous curriculum review and a thorough public process, Let’s T.A.L.K has since been expanded to include more grade levels and has seen significant successes since its implementation.

Pelham Elementary also has a uniquely strong harassment prevention policy approved in December 2019, including a “higher standard of conduct” that reads, in part, “the district seeks to establish a higher standard of appropriate behavior to ensure the physical, social, and emotional safety and well-being of students and employees. This section of the policy clarifies that there is conduct that, although not unlawful harassment based on protected class status, could still interfere with work or academic performance by creating an environment that is not conducive to professional, academic and/or social-emotional success for students or employees.”

This language, Hall said, emerged after teachers expressed concerns about an incident at the school that was not covered under standard anti-harassment policies for public schools.

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