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Backstory

Amherst opted for silence on white student 'aggressively, seriously' assaulted by students of color

From left: School Committee member Amilcar Shabazz, Superintendent Maria Geryk and Amherst Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson

From left: School Committee member Amilcar Shabazz, Superintendent Maria Geryk and Amherst Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson Purchase photo reprints »

Superintendent Maria Geryk said in a telephone interview Friday that the altercation was unrelated to other racial incidents at Amherst Regional High School this past year that led to the creation of an Equity Task Force that is exploring ways to reduce racial tension.

The new incident came to light Thursday when the leaders of the three school committees sent a memo to the task force reprimanding it after the panel’s chairman, Amilcar Shabazz of Amherst, allegedly referred to the white student involved in the incident as racist at a June 18 task force meeting.

That student was targeted, according to the memo Thursday, after students of color decided to “beat up the greatest racist they could find.” An investigation by the school found no evidence that the student was being racist, the memo said.

Geryk declined Friday to answer several questions about the attack, including when and where it took place, whether the white student was injured to the point of needing medical attention and whether the students responsible were disciplined.

“I will not discuss issues related to children because their rights must be protected, whether they are the victim or the aggressor,” Geryk wrote in an email Friday night, in response to follow-up questions from the Gazette.

“Adults must maintain confidentiality, and therefore I will not be providing more specific responses to your questions,” she said. “I would prefer the focus not be on the kids. We are trying to protect the confidentiality of students on both sides of conflicts.”

She said school officials handled the case of the assault internally and spoke with the family of the white student who was assaulted. Geryk said that procedure is standard for the school department.

Geryk said she did not know whether the family went to police to report the attack.

An Amherst police officer on duty at the station Friday said he was not aware of the incident, nor was another officer reached by phone later Friday, who deferred questions to detectives who were off for the July 4 holiday.

Geryk said the attack was not related to earlier racial incidents that led to the task force’s creation. Those included a white student’s use of the N-word in a congratulatory message to a friend on a Facebook post, and his subsequent threat to bring a gun in January that forced the school to close. That student, Dylan Akalis, was later banned from participating in graduation ceremonies. Other incidents included racist slurs and hostile notes aimed at a math teacher, Carolyn Gardner.

“It’s totally unrelated,” Geryk said of the newly disclosed assault. “This was not a situation that was discussed with the School Committee or anyone else.”

Unlike the incident in January, in which the school was forced to close, Geryk said this altercation was not addressed publicly because school officials do not discuss any student discipline issues with the public.

“The incident in January was addressed publicly because it involved a threat that closed the school, and therefore needed to be shared with the public,” she wrote in an email.

As for the letter from the School Committee chairs to the task force, Geryk said leaders of those committees have a responsibility to call attention to things said or done by committee members that are judged to be inappropriate.

Shabazz, who is also a member of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, allegedly referred to the student who was the victim of the assault as a racist, though he was not identified by name.

Two attempts to reach Shabazz for comment in person at his home in Amherst on Friday were unsuccessful, as were telephone calls Friday and Thursday.

Amherst School Committee chairwoman Katherine Appy declined to discuss the incident Thursday, citing student privacy laws, but confirmed in an email to a Gazette reporter that a number of people who attended the June 18 meeting reported the remark by Shabazz and that two School Committee representatives met with him and then sent a letter of apology to the student’s family.

In the letter sent Thursday to members of the task force, Appy; Lawrence O’Brien, chairman of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee; and Darius Modestow, chairman of the Pelham School Committee, said comments by Shabazz revealed details about students whose identities are “well known throughout the school community.”

It went on to say, “The Chair spoke about an incident which occurred this spring when secondary students of color decided to identify and beat up the greatest racist they could find.”

As an official of the Regional School Committee, Shabazz risked violating the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) rights of these students by making this public statement, the memo said.

“The white student was aggressively and seriously assaulted,” the memo said. “An investigation was conducted and no issue was raised in the course of the investigation about the student being a racist. Yet the chair has now inappropriately and publicly exposed this student as one who is racist.”

Phone messages left for O’Brien and Modestow were not returned Friday. Appy’s voicemail said she is away until July 21.

In an email on Thursday, O’Brien said he was “reticent to answer any questions about incidents that happened or might have happened in our schools out of concern that it would jeopardize the privacy or students and their families.” He said the purpose of the memo sent to the Equity Task Force members was “to correct inaccurate information that was discussed at the SETF’s June 18 public meeting.”

According to the letter, 15 members of the 30-person task force were present at the meeting and roughly one-third confirmed the comment made by Shabazz.

The memo reminds task force members that while School Committee policy provides “great latitude for expressing an individual opinion,” it also holds members “to an ethical and legal standard of conduct when representing themselves as Committee members. It is a basic expectation that School Committee members share only correct information and that false accusations not occur.”

The task force, made up of School Committee members, school personnel and other members of the community is one of a number of steps the school district is taking to address the tensions.

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AMHERST — School officials have reprimanded a task force examining racial issues in the schools after the panel’s chairman allegedly identified a white student involved in racial tensions at Amherst Regional High School as a racist, and have also apologized to the student’s parents. The remark was allegedly made by Amilcar Shabazz of Amherst, a member of the Amherst-Pelham Regional … 4

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AMHERST — A member of a new task force exploring ways to reduce racial tensions in the Amherst school system said that its chairman, Amilcar Sha- bazz, is doing “incredibly important and difficult work” and hopes recent controversy surrounding his remarks at a June meeting can be put in the context of the larger discussion taking place. “Let’s not let … 4

Comments
Legacy Comments7

Amilcar Shabazz should be FIRED for cause at once.

Amherst is an excellent community. The vast majority of Amherst residents are great folks. I grew up there and saw some racism but saw plenty of white folks standing up for people of color. Overall, there's wrong-doing on both sides of the issue. A white student getting beat up by kids of color needs to be addressed seriously and publicly. Similarly, a teacher getting racial threats has to be dealt with too. Both sides need to feel the laws protect them. This story get's lots of press and for good reason, but it's far from the full picture of the town. For those trolling just looking to badmouth a good town, your comments reveal more about you than about Amherst.

This is why Amherst is one of the worst communities in America. Do you know that until recently. Why the hell were the minority racists who beat the white student not charged with a hate crime?

I guess because the parents of the kid who was assaulted did not want to conatct the police or press charges?

"Amherst opted for silence" = followed state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to these issues.

Amherst is a liberal cesspool, and the only racism is by whites. Minorities are given a complete pass, because of all the oppression they as a race have suffered in the past. Much of Amherst agrees with the idea of reparations to blacks... yup... the capital of happy valley...

So a white student can be beaten by black students and then be publically labeled a racist by the School Committee Chair and nothing is done. If a white student did this then all resources would be expended to prosecute the white student. Happy Independence day.

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