Hundreds call on Amherst school officials for open meeting 

  • Amherst-Pelham Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/21/2020 7:57:41 PM

AMHERST — More than 200 residents, many of them parents and guardians of Amherst public school students, are calling on the Amherst School Committee to hold a special public meeting focused on how to safely reopen buildings for in-school education.

Under a section of the Amherst town charter that provides mechanisms for public participation, 240 people of voting age signed the petition submitted Monday to the committee, as well as the town clerk’s office, asking for an Open Meeting of the Residents.

“We feel excluded from the decision-making process and would like a public airing of the issues related to this absence,” states the petition.

William Kaizen, a North Amherst parent who spearheaded the petition, said he sees an Open Meeting of the Residents as the latest effort to revise a deal reached between the school committee and the Amherst Pelham Education Association for when in-person school can occur. The current deal has COVID-19 metrics that have triggered fully remote instruction since late October for all students, and so far that has not been amended.

“Many have felt extremely frustrated by the memorandum of agreement,” Kaizen said.

School Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald wrote in an email that the format and scheduling of the meeting will be discussed when the Amherst School Committee meets Jan. 12.

“Given the number of individuals who have added their signatures to this petition, I expect we will see many community members participating in this public meeting, and I look forward to engaging with the community in conversation around this subject,” McDonald wrote.

Such a meeting would serve two purposes, Kaizen said. First, it would raise broader awareness of how unlikely it is to return to school, even as a vaccine begins to be administered.

“We want to get the message out more clearly about what the situation is,” Kaizen said.

Second, while Kaizen understands parents have no real power, such a meeting could embolden School Committee members to have more conversation with teachers, and could also put pressure on the teachers union.

What has galvanized parents is the recognition of Amherst being one of the few districts that has not had in-person learning for the bulk of its students, Kaizen said. While his child was able to go to kindergarten in school briefly in the fall, his fourth grader has not been able to set foot in a school building since March.

The Open Meeting of Residents should be held by the end of January, Kaizen said, a time when many parents will be making decisions about whether to pull their children from Amherst’s schools, sending them to other schools via school choice, enrolling them in private school or looking into homeschool options.

The petition raises about a dozen concerns that would be addressed, including whether the schools are using best practice and scientific evidence in keeping students remote, the budget ramifications of losing students to other schools, and how the district should go about redressing the negative impact remote instruction has on special needs and low-income students, and Black, Indigineous and people of color (BIPOC) students.

Before the petition circulated, Kaizen said he informed Town Manager Paul Bockelman, who had town attorney KP Law weigh in on whether the “request in writing of 200 residents 18 years or older, including names and addresses” needed to be real signatures, more challenging in the midst of a pandemic. But “wet” signatures were not needed.

Town Council President Lynn Griesemer has also been apprised of the petition, Kaizen said, and town councilors will be encouraged to be part of the discussion.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy