Amherst Regional Middle School counselors face transphobia allegations

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-10-2023 5:52 PM

AMHERST — A series of alleged anti-LGTBQ actions by counselors at Amherst Regional Middle School, including intentional misgendering of trans students, having religious conversations with students and staff, and not providing support for students facing gender-based bullying or intimidation at school, are being reported in a student-written article published this week.

“It’s Life or Death: Failure to Protect Trans Kids at ARMS a Systemic Problem” is the title of the article appearing in The Graphic and which makes specific allegations, mostly by students and families who are given anonymity, against Hector Santos, an adjustment counselor, his daughter Tania Cabrera, a seventh-grade guidance counselor and Delinda Dykes, an eighth-grade guidance counselor.

The news story provides numerous specifics about what is raising concerns, including holding a private prayer circle to which a staff member was invited before the school day began, the handing out of chocolate crosses to students and questions about if they had “prayed on” conflicts being experienced and a Facebook post showing the hand of Christ protecting children from a rainbow descending on them.

None of the three counselors subject to the allegations, who denied the reports in the article to the students who wrote it, responded to emails from the Gazette for comment.

While not directly responding to the experiences shared by those interviewed for the article by students taught by English and journalism teacher Sara Barber-Just, Superintendent Michael Morris sent an email to families following its publication that a Title IX investigation is underway related to complaints his office received in April.

“Last month, the District received a complaint that expressed significant claims and concerns about experiences at ARMS. As a result, on April 14, the district initiated a Title IX investigation. An external investigator with the necessary skills, training, and expertise to conduct the investigation was identified and retained,” Morris wrote.

The article comes after the Amherst Regional School Committee meeting on April 25, when several members of the community used the public comment period to raise related concerns about alleged homophobic and transphobic comments toward middle school children and the possibility that LGBTQ+ students are being told to deny their gender identity and sexual orientation. At that meeting, Morris said anonymous complaints based on hearsay couldn’t be investigated, but added that it is important to understand the harm, and repair the harm, if such things are occurring.

Now Morris wrote that he has more information:

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“Since that time, additional complaints have been received,” Morris wrote. “Throughout the investigation, all information and concerns about staff members that have been reported in a way that is consistent with our employee contracts (many of which require the District to provide the employee with the name of the complainant in order for an investigation to be launched) have been processed and shared with the investigator within one day of receipt.”

Morris continued, “The district will be reviewing the results of the external investigation when it is complete and will take appropriate actions and make any necessary changes to its procedures or protocols as a result. This includes reviewing the structures in place for reporting concerns or complaints (which must remain consistent with employee contracts) and providing additional training, support, and structures for staff and students at ARMS.”

The Graphic article has already generated concern among residents, with Michael Burkart of Aubinwood Road writing a letter to the editor expressing disappointment in what he described as a lack of effective leadership in responding.

Burkart said about 40 people he knows are strategizing about what to do going forward.

The communication from Morris concluded with offering concern for the LGBTQ community.

“While the District cannot comment further on the specifics of the Title IX investigation until it is complete, we understand how harmful the reported concerns have been to the community as a whole, but most particularly to the LGBTQ+ community,” he wrote. “We want to explicitly state to the ARPS community that we are committed to providing a safe, supportive and respectful environment in which every student and faculty member can learn, work and thrive. If anyone has concerns they have not yet shared with the District, we encourage them to contact Dr. Marta Guevara, Title IX Officer, at guevaram@arps.org.”

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