Ultra-liberal town eats itself in school board meeting; Black staffers labeled transphobic throw racism shots

If you live in ultra-liberal Amherst, Massachusetts, chances are good you are up to speed on the many ways you can be offended.

But what happens when the finger-pointing goes on overdrive? What is the proper privileged pecking order?

Well, according to the New Yorker, that very battle is being fought at Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS,), where the “crisis” is “a collision of multiple issues: racial tension, union power, the respectful treatment of queer and trans kids, and the place of religion in schools—not to mention the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and what it has done to the fabric of civic life in the U.S.”

To summarize the scandal, “white parents accused minority Christian staffers of transphobia – only to find themselves branded racist,” the Daily Mail reports.

(Video: Daily Mail)

Following a Title IX investigation into claims that officials were not doing enough to protect bullied transgender and non-binary students, investigators found a “culture of fear and intimidation” at ARMS, according to the New Yorker.

After an article appeared in the Amherst’s high-school newspaper, the Graphic, titled “ ‘It’s Life or Death’: Failure to Protect Trans Kids at ARMS a Systemic Problem,” the liberal town’s struggles gained a national spotlight.

“The article was noticed by the mainstream press—the Boston Globe profiled the students who wrote it—and also by conservative outlets, a few of which implied that Christian educators were being persecuted,” according to the New Yorker. “Meanwhile, in Amherst, an emergency school-committee meeting was held at the high-school library.”

“By that point,” the outlet explains, “the mother of a trans child at arms had formally requested a Title IX investigation into gender-based discrimination at the school, and the two counsellors who featured most prominently in the Graphic article had been placed on leave.”

The New Yorker continues:

But a number of those at the meeting—which attracted an overflow crowd of teachers, parents, and alumni—believed that more needed to be done. They called for an investigation of Michael Morris, the district’s superintendent, and for the resignation of Doreen Cunningham, the assistant superintendent who oversaw human resources for the district and was seen by many as a close ally of the controversial guidance counsellors. Members of the Amherst teachers’ union told the room that they had approved a vote of no confidence against Morris, who had taken an emergency medical leave, and Cunningham.

An uncomfortable fact was that most of the concerned parents were white and the two counsellors under scrutiny were not: one of them, Hector Santos, is Latino, and the other, Delinda Dykes, is Black. Cunningham, who is Black, was the district’s head of diversity, equity, and H.R.; Morris, the superintendent, is white.

 

“At the school-committee meeting, which lasted nearly six hours, one of the few people who spoke in Cunningham’s defense was her son, who had worked at ARMS as a student-support specialist,” reports the New Yorker.

“For a prime example of how women of color get treated in leadership positions,” the son said, “I say look no further than Amherst public schools.”

“The troubles at ARMS, he insisted, were ‘not about the L.G.B.T.Q.+ situation,’ but, rather, the product of an unusually combative teachers’ union and ordinary racism,” according to the outlet.

Thoughts of a satisfactory resolution in Amherst feel hopeless, according to the New Yorker. The outlet suggests it’s indicative of a larger struggle in Biden’s America.

“The ongoing fight in Amherst seems to press against every bruise that public schools have sustained in recent years, and the continued fallout—multiple investigations, resignations, a persistent leadership vacuum in the schools—doesn’t inspire confidence in our collective capacity to work through the inevitable frictions of a pluralistic society,” the outlet states. “Even in a liberal and largely affluent district, certain conflicts and tensions have come to feel irresolvable.”

“Even though most of the staffers and students at the center of the Title IX investigation are no longer connected to ARMS,” the New Yorker reports, “the turbulence at the school has not abated.”

Melissa Fine

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