Students alleged online ‘transphobic rhetoric’ by Easthampton superintendent finalist

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 04-19-2023 2:40 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Just as the School Committee was getting ready to select Erica Faginski-Stark as its new superintendent on the evening of April 10, a member of the high school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club reached out to the mayor’s office with “extreme concerns” about the Ludlow educator.

In an email sent at about 9 that night and obtained by the Gazette on Tuesday, the student flagged a Facebook account with Faginski-Stark’s name that contained posts they described as “conservative transphobic rhetoric a multitude of times.”

The student — whose name and information city officials redacted in the email in “an effort to protect the identity of a minor for ongoing security concerns” — provided screenshots of two Facebook posts and links to a Facebook page that allegedly belonged to Faginski-Stark. The page appears to have since been removed.

In a Jan. 23, 2021, post made by Erica Faginski, she puts a call out for female athletes to speak up. The post includes a link to a video posted from PragerU, a conservative nonprofit organization “focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.” The video link speaks to the “end of women’s sports” and includes a speech from Selina Soule, who says she was one of the top five female high school sprinters in Connecticut until “competing against biological boys changed the game.”

A screenshot of the post by Faginski associated with this video link states: “For EVERY female athlete out there, it’s time to speak up. As a former Div. 1 scholarship athlete and academic & athletic ALL American, our young women just got stripped of their equal rights and equal opportunity yesterday.”

It’s unclear what the post is referring to; however, on Jan. 20, 2021, the Biden administration issued an executive order affirming federal anti-discrimination rules against LGBTQ people.

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About two months later, in a March 26, 2021, post from the same account, she advocates for the signing of a petition that will “defend Title IX” through a website, DefendTitleIXNow.com, and questions why there has been such a lack of advocacy on behalf of equality for women and women’s sports.

“Ladies, the glass ceiling is more real now than it’s been in generations,” the screenshot of the post states. “Our choice to use our voice or to remain silent will determine not only the future of women’s athletics but equality for women everywhere. It’s time to speak up.”

Though the website is no longer active, the link states that “only girls should play girls’ sports.”

The School Committee selected Faginski-Stark, the current director of curriculum and instruction at Ludlow Public Schools, at around the same time on April 10 as the students sent the email. Three days later, on Thursday, April 13, Faginski-Stark withdrew from consideration after Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and School Committee Chairperson Cynthia Kwiecinski began looking into the concerns raised by the students.

Faginski-Stark could not be reached for comment by email or phone on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Students speak out

After seeing the posts, the student requested that the mayor “cross-check” with her about the Facebook account.

“With the recent anti trans picketing, many youth in the school are concerned and angry,” the email states.

LaChapelle responded to the student’s email the following day, stating that she would follow up with Faginski-Stark directly and get back to them.

Also obtained in the correspondence the city released Tuesday was an email from LaChapelle responding to another email, which was also redacted, stating that she was “actively” following up on the concern that the individual — who was speaking on behalf of themself and other members of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club — had brought to her attention.

“Thank you for speaking out — no person should have to hold such concerns,” LaChapelle wrote.

The mayor told the Gazette that she reached out to Kwiecinski the day after receiving the email. Kwiecinski then contacted Faginski-Stark about the concerns on Thursday evening, a day before contract negotiations were slated to begin. Those talks were subsequently canceled after Faginski-Stark withdrew, according to LaChapelle.

Some on committee left in the dark

School Committee member Laurie Garcia said she was unaware of the students’ letter regarding Faginski-Stark until reading about it in the Gazette on Saturday. Garcia also noted that she wasn’t privy to the information in the letter until seeing it on the city’s website on Tuesday.

“This most recent turn of events is yet another reason for the public to question a lack of communication and process with the current School Committee,” Garcia said. “I am very proud of our Easthampton students for standing up against transphobia. However, any letter of this magnitude should have warranted an emergency executive session to discuss it with the full committee before statements were issued to the press.”

LaChapelle said she typically passes on information she receives pertaining to the committee — whether it’s webinars or correspondence — to the chairperson to distribute to the rest of the committee. She practices the same method with correspondence to the City Council, she added.

Kwiecinski said she did not share the letter with the entire committee because Faginski-Stark withdrew from consideration from the job and she conveyed that message to committee members.

“Dr. Faginski Stark dropped out immediately, when she heard about the letter, so negotiations never began. If she had not withdrawn, I would have immediately shared the letter with the Committee so that they had time to review it before our executive session,” said Kwiecinski, adding that Garcia never called with a question.

The search for a new superintendent has gained national and international attention after the committee rescinded a job offer to another finalist, Vito Perrone, earlier this month. Perrone indicated that the reason the committee rescinded its offer to him was because he had addressed Kwiecinski and Suzanne Colby, executive assistant to the committee, as “Ladies” in an email.

The School Committee’s next meeting is slated for Tuesday, April 25, at 6 p.m. and will be held virtually.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>