Amherst regional school committees to meet Wednesday, may name temporary superintendent

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 08-22-2023 6:20 PM

AMHERST — A temporary or interim superintendent for the Amherst, Amherst-Pelham and Pelham public schools could be named at a joint meeting of the Regional and Union 26 school committees Wednesday.

The meeting, in a remote format rather than being held at the high school library, begins at 5:30 p.m., with the committees expected to go into executive session initially. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, in person, the meeting was pushed back a day to comply with posting requirements under the Open Meeting Law, so that the Union 26 Committee, which is called to order for matters pertaining to hiring a superintendent, could legally meet.

Superintendent Michael Morris, who has been at the helm of the schools on both an interim and permanent basis since 2016, stepped down from his role last week, following an executive session, in the midst of a Title IX investigation and alleged transphobic actions by middle school counselors who were placed on leave. Morris was on medical leave for two months, shortly after the issues with LGTBQ bullying came to light, but returned in mid-July to unveil a comprehensive plan for making the schools welcoming to all students, from professional training for staff to students being able to use the bathroom of their preferred gender.

The executive session will be followed by reorganizing the committees, after Ben Herrington, chairman of the regional panel, resigned from his position. Pelham representative Sarahbess Kenney is the vice chairwoman of the regional committee that includes two Pelham representatives, one Shutesbury representative, one Leverett representative and, customarily, five Amherst representatives. The Union 26 committee has three Amherst and three Pelham representatives.

Following public comment, there will be an update on filling the vacancy and “discuss superintendent status and future transition, including acting superintendent appointment.”

Peter Demling, who chairs the Union 26 Committee, wrote in an email that this will be the first time committee members will meet since the separation agreement with Morris was announced.

“This is then the first opportunity for our committees to talk, and so what if any decisions are made tomorrow will be up to the committees to decide” Demling wrote.

The panels could decide if it’s appropriate to hire an acting superintendent, as it did with Douglas Slaughter, the schools’ finance director, in May, or appoint someone for a longer period, so it would be an interim superintendent.

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Chris Herland, president of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association, said the union wishes Morris well in his next endeavors.

 “We welcome any further investigations that are warranted once the results of the Title IX investigation come to light,” Herland said.

And when a search for a permanent successor begins, the union wants to take part.

“The APEA must be involved in the next superintendent’s search and in rebuilding the Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools to be a welcoming, safe and inclusive learning and working environment for our students and educators,” Herland said. “We want the healing to begin and that starts with the educators having a seat at the table.”

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