Pelham rep to Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee protests losing seat

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2023 11:36:27 AM
Modified: 9/22/2023 11:35:47 AM

PELHAM — Tom Fanning wants his seat on the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee back.

Elected to the Pelham School Committee in May and soon after appointed as one of the town’s two representatives to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, Tom Fanning’s interest in serving comes after many years as a technology instructor at the middle school, supporting both the idea of making technology more engaging for students, while also working to foster the well-being of students by enhancing 13 school policies focused on nondiscrimination and equity.

Attending meetings soon after over allegations of transphobic actions by middle school counselors came to light, and school leaders initiated an investigation into possible violations of the Title IX federal civil rights law, Fanning joined Sarahbess Kenney of Pelham on the nine-member panel that normally includes five representatives from Amherst and one each from Leverett and Shutesbury.

Throughout the summer, at meetings on July 6, July 12, Aug. 17 and Aug. 23, and a new member orientation with the regional chairperson and superintendent on July 24, Fanning was a member of the regional committee.

Fanning’s tenure, though, appears to have come to an end, a situation that occurred when Pelham was required to reorganize its School Committee following the resignation of Sarah Hall as its chairwoman. At that Aug. 29 meeting, after the four Pelham committee members chose Margaret Stancer as its new chairperson and also selected a vice chairperson and secretary, committee member William Sherr threw his hat into the ring to serve the region, citing specifically his interest in being a member of and a voice for what he refers to as the “queer community.”

Subsequently Kenney, now the chairwoman of the regional committee, was reappointed — and Sherr, who was just appointed to the Pelham School Committee by town officials over the summer, was elected to the regional committee on a 3-1 vote.

Now, Fanning is trying to figure out whether he can have a role on the regional committee. While he is on the Union 26 committee that hires the superintendent, he will not have a say in regional affairs as he had wanted to, a frustrating outcome because he hadn’t stepped down.

“There was no vacancy,” Fanning said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I was supposed to be allowed to serve for my full term.”

At a Regional School Committee meeting this week, Fanning said, “I think I was inappropriately deprived of my position that I was legitimately given at the June 6 meeting up in Pelham, and the policy regarding the selection of Regional School Committee members was violated.”

On Aug. 31, two days after the Pelham board reorganization, he read a statement about his election by voters on May 17 and his selection to the regional committee on June 6, an annual organizational meeting: “I call upon the members of the Pelham School Committee to make selections for the Pelham reps voted on Aug. 29 of this week null and void and allow me to return my seat on the region to fill out my required term of three years.”

Fanning also sought advice from school attorney Marc Terry, who suggested the Pelham committee meet again. It did on Sept. 14, and Sherr kept his regional seat on a 2-2 vote.

In a phone interview, Sherr said he wants to continue to be on the Regional School Committee and that he brings an important voice otherwise not represented.

Sherr said his interest was sparked following the article in high school newspaper The Graphic detailing the problems trans and nonbinary students faced at the middle school. He spoke about his own experience at a meeting in May, including that he and his husband moved from Texas, where he grew up, in the hope of becoming part of a more welcoming community.

He said it was “sad and disgusting” to see the same bullying he was subjected to happen in Amherst.

“We chose to come to this area, to Amherst, because we felt it was a safe, protective place, for our children of color, and for our children who had two dads,” Sherr said.

Understanding that Fanning is still interested in the position, Sherr said people are showing support for him instead. “I think it’s important to ask for queer representation on the RSC,” Sherr wrote in a message to others in the community.

Sherr said he believes the matter has been settled following last week’s meeting.

But Fanning points to policies that guide the school committees that make up the district. Policy AAC-E, “Establishing a regional school district,” states that the person or persons selected to region “shall serve for the duration of said selectee’s term on the local school committee, or until a successor has been selected and qualified.”

The other is Policy BDA, “Committee organizational meeting,” which states “each selected member will become a member of the Regional School Committee on the day of his/her selection, and he/she will serve for the duration of the member’s term on the local school committee, or until a successor has been selected.”

School parent Jena Schwartz applauded Sherr’s appointment at Tuesday’s meeting. “Having a Regional School Committee whose membership reflects the ARPS communities, our students, families teachers and staff, as well as the broader community, so I’m glad that happened,” Schwartz said.

Sherr brings an important lens, said parent Ali Wicks-Lim. “We need LGBTQIA representation on this committee at this time, more than ever,” Wicks-Lim said.

Fanning said his next step is to go to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees for advice, noting that he participated in a daylong workshop in Charlton for new school committee members.

“I want to run this whole situation by them and see what happens,” he said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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