Amherst teacher union takes no-confidence vote in Superintendent Morris, calls on assistant superintendent to resign  

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-14-2023 4:23 PM

AMHERST — The union representing teachers, paraprofessionals and clerical staff has taken a no-confidence vote in Superintendent Michael Morris and is calling for his assistant superintendent’s resignation.

Saturday’s announcement by the Amherst Pelham Education Association’s executive board came a day after Morris said he would step aside for an unspecified length of time on orders from his doctor, with an intent to return, and just a few days after counselors at the middle school were alleged to have engaged in transphobic actions. Three staff members were later placed on leave.

In addition to the no-confidence vote, the union is also demanding the resignation of Doreen Cunningham, assistant superintendent for diversity, equity and human resources. Cunningham has been criticized for hires, including the middle school counselors at the center of recent controversy. She came under fire, as well, for the recent failed middle school principal search in which accusations were leveled that she had a previous relationship with one of the finalists, a contention she denied.

The union wished Morris well and offered support for his need to get healthy, but then cited reasons for having no confidence in him, including that no similar positive collaboration was offered educators or students.

“Unfortunately, for many staff and students, this has not been the case for several years in the district. Problems have been allowed to fester under his and Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham’s leadership,” the union’s statement said.

The reasons cited for the vote include an unsafe environment for children, including the way Morris has dealt with complaints around marginalized and LGBTQ communities and unethical hiring practices and a toxic work environment created by Cunningham.

“Our district needs change, our students need change, and our educators need change. The no confidence vote urges the ARPS School Committee to investigate Michael Morris and seek the resignation of Doreen Cunningham.”

The union also calls out the elected representatives. “The School Committee has been inattentive as it failed, as a body, to hold district leadership accountable for many staff and student complaints.”

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Meanwhile, a School Committee-led process to find a temporary leader for the Amherst, Amherst-Pelham Regional and Pelham public schools begins Monday. At 7:30 p.m., the Regional School Committee that represents the four communities that make up the district, Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury, and the so-called Superintendency Union 26 Committee, with representatives from Pelham and Amherst, will meet in executive session to begin charting a course of action. Then, Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., the public process will begin with the Regional School Committee meeting at the high school library.

The school committees offered sympathy and praise for Morris. In a statement from Ben Herrington, Amherst representative and chairman of the regional committee, Allison McDonald, Amherst representative and chairwoman of the Amherst committee, Sarah Hall, chairwoman of the Pelham committee and Peter Demling, Amherst representative and chairman of the Union 26 committee, the committee said: “First and foremost, our hearts go out to Dr. Morris as he takes the time to care for his personal health and well-being. We fully support his taking leave at this time, and we applaud his courage in being open and honest with all of us about his experience in leading our schools through a series of unprecedented challenges over the years and the toll that this has taken.”

The statement continues, “Through it all Mike has worked tirelessly to lead numerous school initiatives while prioritizing the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of others. Acknowledging our own mental health issues and accepting help carries a stigma in our society that can be overcome by supporting one another in times of need. We deeply appreciate Mike’s service to our schools and community and we look forward to his return as Superintendent at ARPS.”

Their communication concluded with thanks to the educators, even in the midst of contentious contract negotiations.

“Finally, we wish to express our sincere gratitude for the amazing ARPS staff and teachers who are working together to, as Dr. Morris puts it, ‘provide the necessary support and resources to ensure that the end of this school year is a time of healing, celebration, and joy.’”

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