Amherst-Pelham Regional board issues apology to LGBTQ students

  • Amherst Regional High School students march to the middle school in support of LGBTQIA+ students on a Friday in May. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/31/2023 4:44:29 PM
Modified: 5/31/2023 4:44:04 PM

AMHERST — A statement put out by the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee this week is expressing support for all students in the secondary schools to have a safe learning environment free of discrimination, as well as providing an apology for the pain and harm recently caused to the LGBTQIA+ community by alleged anti-trans actions by middle school staff.

The committee voted unanimously Tuesday to support a statement drafted by Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao, who said that she wanted to ensure support for all students to be their authentic and true selves.

“Doing this is more important than anything else on our agenda tonight,” Shiao said, noting that the committee in recent weeks had to prioritize getting an acting superintendent in place when Michael Morris went on medical leave.

“The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee believes that every student is entitled to a safe, welcoming, and nurturing school environment where they can be their full and authentic selves, including all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA+) students,” the statement reads. “We know that our LGBTQIA+ students face unique challenges, particularly if they also identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or people of color). We believe that everyone deserves to live their life authentically and without fear of discrimination or harm.”

“This is an important step, I would say,” said regional committee Chairman Ben Herrington.

“We should keep this in the forefront of our mind in everything that we do going forward,” Herrington said. “These issues intersect with a lot of issues we have in our schools.”

The alleged anti-trans actions, which included staff members not stopping bullying and name-calling, leading prayer circles and not referring to students by their preferred pronouns, are under a Title IX investigation initiated after a parent’s complaint in April that has been supplemented with further allegations, said Douglas Slaughter, the acting superintendent.

Amherst representative Irv Rhodes, too, said the statement is vital to make sure that these sorts of things don’t happen again.

“There needs to be other concrete steps that this committee does in relationship to the incidents that occurred. These steps cannot just stop with this letter,” Rhodes said.

He also expressed frustration that there were failures in the feedback system and that his moral compass didn’t recognize the problems.

Tolerance, love and kindness are priorities, said Amherst representative Peter Demling. “I think that comes through really well here,” he said.

“We are deeply sorry for the pain and harm some individuals, families, and other members of our community have experienced recently, and we know that our words alone are not enough,” the statement reads. “That is why we are committed to taking the concrete actions available within our purview to ensure that such harm does not continue and is never repeated.”

The statement goes on to note that the schools recognize LGBTQIA+ students as essential members of a diverse and vibrant school community who bring unique perspectives and experiences: “Our diversity is what makes our school community great. Our LGBTQIA+ students and staff are integral members of that community, and we unequivocally support all individuals in being their full and authentic selves.”

Slaughter provided an update on the Title IX investigation, saying the investigation has grown from one incident. But it likely won’t be until August when a full report is submitted.

“There will be aspects that will be public facing, and there will be aspects that won’t be,” Slaughter said. Ed Mitnick at Just Training Solutions LLC is handling this work.

Slaughter said a parallel investigation is trying to find out why the alleged actions did not come immediately to light.

High School Principal Talib Sadiq, who will also be leading the middle school starting July 1 after Diego Sharon departs, also spoke about the school’s approach and the work to build an inclusive environment, including the LGBTQ literature class, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, and teachers asking students for names and their preferred pronouns, along with exhibits for Pride Month.

Counselors are generally first in line to stop bullying, Sadiq said.

“As a community, as a school, teachers, administrators, counselors, all the adults, we do try to promote and respond to incidents when we find out people aren’t being accepted,” Sadiq said.

Sadiq said he thinks the high school, in particular, has been a welcoming and supportive place, pointing out that students and staff led a rally when they learned of the middle school issues.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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