Amherst interim superintendent promises to release his own report based on Title IX investigation
|Published: 10-18-2023 6:49 PM
AMHERST — Interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter promised Tuesday that he will issue a draft report based on the contents of a recently released Title IX investigation, though he cautioned that he must abide by confidentiality of personnel records contained in the report.
He anticipates his report will show that the school district is taking corrective action and that processes and procedures are being used to confront anti-LGBTQIA+ behavior in the schools.
“It’s imperfect relative to seeing the particular details, but it will also be constructive and forward-looking, and at the same time preserving those things as confidential that need to be confidential,” Slaughter told members of the Amherst Regional and Union 26 school committees at a joint meeting.
Slaughter said that on advice of legal counsel, details contained in the Title IX report — the topic of discussions in executive sessions by the Amherst Regional School Committee — won’t come out publicly, so no undue risks are posed from a liability standpoint.
“We’re operating under the premise that they’re all personnel records and personnel records are confidential, and they should remain so,” Slaughter said.
Some School Committee members, however, said they are receiving pushback from many in the community to share more information about the investigation’s findings.
Shutesbury representative Anna Heard said the community is demanding accountability and the elected leaders have been deferring to the Title IX report. “Now we have the Title IX report and we still aren’t doing anything,” Heard said. “So what can we do to respond to those kinds of demands?”
Slaughter said personnel matters are under the purview of the superintendent, with the School Committee having say only over hiring a superintendent and the district’s finance director, special education director and assistant superintendent.
The Title IX investigation began on April 14 when a parent filed a complaint that her child, a trans student at the Amherst Regional Middle School, had been subject to bullying and that counselors failed to intervene. The high school newspaper The Graphic provided accounts of middle school counselors intentionally misgendering students and bringing prayer into the school.
Shortly after, three middle school staff members were placed on leave, and then Superintendent Michael Morris also began a medical leave. Slaughter, who was interim superintendent at the time, proceeded to place Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham on paid leave until the investigation, led by Ed Mitnick of Just Training Solutions in Springfield, was complete.
“What is most constructive for us is to articulate those things that were investigated and we need to have a clear response to,” Slaughter said Tuesday, noting that his report will be clear about whether failures happened, what follow-up actions have been taken, and what could have been done better.
“It will be fairly generic, but at the same time it will strike to the specifics to some extent,” Slaughter said. “There are a number of aspects of response that are really just reminders of existing process, procedure and policy we already have, and it’s about just reiterating what should have been happening all along, potentially, and then there will be refinements and additions to that.”
Such a public report, though, is not enough for Heard, who asked if there will be public notification of specific staff reductions, personnel changes or firings that have resulted from the Title IX report, comparing the need to know to how the public is informed about police officer-involved incidents with the officer’s identity and employment status.
“It seems like you at least would be able to say, ‘so-and-so was fired because of the findings in the Title IX report,’ without giving any details, and, ‘yes we did an investigation and, as a result, this person was fired,’” Heard said.
“Actually we can’t,” Slaughter said, adding that do so would be violate personnel policy. The district can, however, respond to inquiries from the public to say if someone does or doesn’t work for the district.
Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao asked, “As of today, have any terminations been completed as a result of the Title IX reports?”
“No. Partly because we’re still in process,” Slaughter said.
Amherst representative Gabriela Weaver said she wants to get a sense of how soon the conversation can be about process, about policies, about what went wrong, and about what can be changed.
“On the other hand I also know the community has, reasonably so, been wanting to know what kind of actions we are considering, what kind of findings, independent of individual peoples’s names, perhaps, there are. Part of it is a safety issue,” Weaver said.
Slaughter noted that Morris, when he returned from his medical leave, put together a series of action steps and corrective actions that will be executed.
Amherst representative Irv Rhodes said while the report may not be able to name names, there will be implications from the report for practices and procedures.
Most importantly, Rhodes said, is to bring this to an end. “The community has to have some sense of closure, so whatever we can do to speed that process up, we will do,” Rhodes said.
“There is enough in the report to come to certain kinds of conclusions, and those will be brought forward,” Rhodes said.
Amherst representative Roger Wallace said since transparency is unlikely to happen, the district leaders need to instead be translucent, adding that “we know the embodiment of what happened” leading up to the Title IX complaint.
“The transparency would be wonderful, but it’s not appropriate — but translucence is, so, superintendent be as translucent as you can,” Wallace said. “And we hope that the community will look at what we do from this date forward as to how seriously we look at this, and how seriously we want to make sure this does not happen again,”