Amherst school union demands action on racism concerns

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-28-2024 3:50 PM

AMHERST — Already having an active Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination lawsuit against the Amherst-Pelham public schools, a middle school teacher recently brought concerns about a hostile work environment for herself and other Black staff directly to the Amherst School Committee.

“Recognize that Blacks and other marginalized groups continue to suffer without support, and are often ignored, while racist individuals become bolder, because they realize they will face no consequences and ally with leadership to suppress our voices,” Lamikco “Meka” Magee told the committee at its Feb. 13 meeting.

Her appeals come as the Amherst Pelham Education Association’s Executive Board and Representative Council recently issued a 10-point demand letter titled “call to action or class action,” implying that a lawsuit would be filed on behalf of staff if various concerns about racism aren’t addressed.

The letter from the union, which represents teachers, paraprofessionals and clerical staff, comes after a self-described Black immigrant woman in January withdrew from consideration to be the interim middle school principal after objections were lodged by a parent about her allegedly previous ineffective efforts to stop bullying of LGBTQ students in the building. Another staff member at a Regional School Committee meeting said that Black staff members have been targeted.

The union’s demands includes a commitment to the recruitment, hiring and retention of African American staff, including administrators; an investigation by an independent investigator, agreed upon by the district and the union, into racial discrimination against staff of color in the district; and that staff, including administrators, found to have racially discriminated against other staff and/or students, be reprimanded and undergo continuous training with periodic reviews until specified goals related to anti-racism are met.

There is also a request for a budget of $50,000 to be set aside for programming related to mentoring and support for African American staff and students, an additional $50,000 set aside for all staff of color, and for a committee of African American staff and students be formed to design programming for mentoring and support, along with the formation of an ALANA committee, which stands for African American, Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander and Native American, to design programming for staff of color.

Interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter and the chairs of both the regional and Amherst school committees did not respond to requests for comment.

The School Committee is asked to set a policy mandating anti-racism training for its members, district administrators and staff and that there be inclusion of African American staff on all hiring committees.

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A separate letter was sent by the union about the interview committee for the middle school principal search, which it contends doesn’t have enough staff representatives. That letter suggests at least one Black staff member be part of the interview committee.

The final demands in the “call to action or class action” include the creation of an Office of Inclusion, Equity and Belonging and appointment of a chief equity officer and staff for dismantling institutional racism and discrimination against marginalized communities and establishing an African American studies curriculum that is required for all students in grade 6 to 12 and an African American studies curriculum committee, which includes students, to design that curriculum.

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