Cunningham no longer with Amherst school system

SCREENSHOT

SCREENSHOT SCREENSHOT

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 10-22-2023 7:00 PM

AMHERST — Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham, placed on a paid administrative leave last spring pending the outcome of a Title IX investigation into possible gender-based discrimination against students, is no longer working for the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools, according to the interim superintendent.

Interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter confirmed in an email Thursday that Cunningham’s last day working for the public schools was Oct. 13. That was a day after the Amherst Regional School Committee met in executive session to discuss a Title IX report and related investigations, though it is unclear if her departure is a result of that meeting.

“The district can give no additional information about personnel matters,” Slaughter wrote.

When asked by a School Committee member Tuesday if any terminations had come from the Title IX report, though, Slaughter said no actions had yet been taken because the contents of those reports were still in process.

Cunningham, the assistant superintendent for diversity, equity and human resources since 2017, was responsible for hiring middle school counselors who became the subjects of a published report in The Graphic, the high school newspaper, that they had not intervened to stop bullying of trans students, intentionally misgendered a student and brought prayer into the school. Three staff members were subsequently placed on paid leave.

A Title IX investigation was launched April 14 after a resident alleged her transgender child had been harmed by the actions of school employees and was potentially suicidal.

In May, the Amherst Pelham Education Association, the union representing teachers, paraeducators and clerical staff, took a no-confidence vote in the leadership of Cunningham and Superintendent Michael Morris, and called for Cunningham’s resignation and an investigation into Morris. Morris, who went on a medical leave and later returned, ended his service to the district at the end of August, citing an inability to be an effective leader.

The union’s call for Cunningham to resign cited unethical hiring practices, acting in ways that undermine the district’s mission of equity and excellence, creating an unsafe environment where people feared coming forward and a toxic work environment that stifled open communication and collaboration, as well using her position to enrich herself.

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Cunningham runs Another Lens Staffing & HR Consulting Firm, LLC. An email sent to the company seeking comment about her Amherst tenure was not immediately returned.

At a meeting in May where parents and other community members came out to demand Cunningham leave her position, though, Cunningham said she would not resign.

“I am not resigning,” Cunningham said. “And I am looking to the possibility of working with the community to make the necessary changes.”

“Today is yet another dark day in the Amherst community, and I hope we can work together to bring our community jointly back to the light,” Cunningham said.

During her tenure, Cunningham was credited with diversifying the staff across the district, bringing in more Black, Latino and Asian educators to better match the racial makeup of the student body.

Since she’s been on leave, Cunningham filed a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint against the district. The complaint, filed June 30, asks for unspecified damages for emotional distress, attorney’s fees and, in case of termination, back pay and front pay.

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