Mother asserts racism behind Amherst-Pelham stay-away order 

District, woman battle over ‘stay-away’ order

  • Aisha Hiza, of Chicopee, with her daughter Raheli Hiza-Roffer, 7. CAROL LOLLIS

@amandadrane
Published: 5/3/2016 11:36:28 PM

PELHAM — Aisha Hiza and others who have rallied around her, including the Amherst NAACP, said a “stay-away order” issued against her by the school district is unnecessary and that the district is influenced by the stereotype that all black people are dangerous.

“It’s bizarre,” said Kathleen Anderson, president of the Amherst NAACP, adding that the issue shows school officials are not dealing with their own institutional racism. “This is one of our students being treated this way.”

Hiza, herself a graduate of the district, has not been allowedto drop off or pick up her 7-year-old daughter at school since March 15, when Superintendent Maria Geryk issued the order which prohibits Hiza from setting foot on any school grounds in the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District.

Geryk states the order is based on Hiza’s “actions to date” and information received by the district that the administration deems credible.

Geryk declined to comment on the issue, citing confidentiality requirements, though an attorney representing the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents responded on her behalf.

“Ms. Geryk would be pleased to release the details leading up to the issuance of the stay-away order,” wrote attorney Michael J. Long in a letter emailed to the Gazette. “But, as the details relate to a student and a parent, the superintendent will only do so when the parent signs a written release authorizing her to publicize all background materials.”

Hiza said her attorney advised her not to sign the release.

Geryk offered this statement surrounding the order:

“As an individual entrusted with the responsibility to oversee the district’s schools and to monitor/intervene into situations affecting the safety of the schools, their school children and staff, the superintendent has the right to exercise authority to preclude certain people from being on the school property,” Geryk said in the statement.

Bullying issue

Hiza said the order was issued in the midst of a long-standing, race-tinged bullying issue between her daughter and another student. Hiza, who works as an auxiliary services supervisor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, filed a complaint with the district on April 4. The complaint states that her daughter for a time was refusing to wear her hair down at school because of the bullying she was subject to and had asked her mother to “lighten her skin because her skin was called dirty.” Hiza alleged that the bullying often turned physical and was left unaddressed by the administration.

Hiza’s complaint is scheduled to be heard by the Pelham School Committee in a closed session at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Pelham Library.

Hiza said she has been insistent in expressing concerns about her daughter, but has given the district no reason to feel threatened.

“I strongly believe that I have fallen prey to prejudicial and stereotypical thinking in that all black people are dangerous,” Hiza said in her complaint.

Hiza said she also has concerns about the Pelham School Committee’s ability to properly handle her complaint because the chairwoman, Tara Luce, works at the Crocker Farm Elementary School, which means that Geryk is her boss. Luce declined all comment.

Hiza moved to Chicopee about a year ago but decided to keep her daughter, Raheli Hiza-Roffer, in school in Pelham.

After seven community members spoke to the issue during the public comment session when the Pelham School Committee met April 6, Hiza said she received a letter from the school district’s lawyer Regina Tate that informed her she was no longer permitted to speak with schoolofficials.

Several more community members attended the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee meeting on April 12 on Hiza’s behalf. Natan Cohen, a local social justice activist, read aloud a letter and petition during the meeting that called for lifting that order.

Organizers advocating for Hiza, including members of the committee’s School Equity Task Force, say the issue goes beyond this one family.

“I think the system is in comfortable denial of what is happening to our children,” said Mary Lou Conca, a substitute teacher in the district and School Equity Task Force member, asserting that implicit bias is present in the schools. “It blows my mind.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.




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