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Report finds LGBTQ students at Amherst Regional Middle School were mistreated

Amherst Regional High School students march to the middle school in support of LGBTQIA+ students on May 12, 2023, in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Dan Little
/
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Amherst Regional High School students march to the middle school in support of LGBTQIA+ students on May 12, 2023, in Amherst, Massachusetts.

School officials in Amherst, Massachusetts, are looking at next steps. That's after an independent investigation found LGBTQ students at the regional middle school were mistreated.

The report, which was made public last week, found some counselors at the school misgendered students, and that school officials failed to address harassment and bullying, by other students and staff members. It went on to say some employees were hesitant to report the misconduct because of a quote "culture of fear and intimidation".

A member of the Amherst Regional School Committee, Jennifer Shiao, said she was "distraught, upset and surprised" by the report's findings. She said as the district moves forward, there should be a particular emphasis.

"There's been a lot of focus on adults and adult actions and on protecting adults, but really what we all need to be doing is protecting students and focusing on what's best for students," Shiao said.

The allegations were made public this spring after a report by the regional high school's student newspaper.

In all, five reports were released. There was a lengthy Title IX report, which dealt with the allegations of student mistreatment. There were also four others which reviewed alleged conduct by staffers at the middle school.

The results of the investigation were released after the Daily Hampshire Gazette filed two public records requests to make them public. The school district denied the request, but the secretary of state’s office sided with the newspaper on appeal. The district did not contest the decision. Shiao said she was thankful the newspaper pushed to release the reports.

Going forward, Shiao said she believes the regional school committee should form a subcommittee to review the documents and propose actions the body can take in the wake of the investigation.

One step she said she’d like to see is a strong whistleblower policy, to make staff feel more comfortable in reporting any wrongdoing they observe.

“There may already be a whistleblower policy, but there needs to be one that is enforced, that people are aware of…so people do feel that they can come forward when they see something or hear something that is concerning,” she said.

The Amherst Regional schools are also in the market for new leadership. Former superintendent Michael Morris went on leave shortly after the allegations came out, citing health concerns. He returned over the summer, but then reached a separation agreement with the district.

Shiao said the hope is a new superintendent will set to begin in time for the next school year. The district’s business manager, Douglas Slaughter is currently filling the role in an interim capacity.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.

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