Three Amherst school staffers on leave as probe into anti-transgender activities continues

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-18-2023 4:36 PM

AMHERST — Three staff members in the Amherst public schools are on paid administrative leave pending the results of a Title IX investigation that is underway by an impartial, external investigator, Superintendent Michael Morris confirmed last Thursday.

Morris announced the status of the ongoing investigation amid the fallout from an article published last week in The Graphic, the high school student newspaper, in which anti-transgender activities, including prayer circles and intentional misgendering of students, are alleged to have taken place at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

“The allegations being investigated are serious, and we understand how harmful the reported concerns have been to the community as a whole, but most particularly to the LGBTQ+ community,” Morris said in a statement on May 11. “We want to explicitly state to the ARPS community that we are committed to providing a safe, supportive and respectful environment in which every student and faculty member can learn, work and thrive.”

Morris did not identify those who are on leave or whether they are the three counselors publicly identified in the student newspaper article.

Two of those counselors at the middle school at the center of allegations of anti-transgender behavior contained in the newspaper article are denying they have engaged in any inappropriate actions, even as district leaders proceed with the Title IX investigation.

Emailed statements from Delinda Dykes, an eighth grade guidance counselor, and Hector L. Santos, an adjustment counselor, both assert that they have done nothing wrong, and that they will be cleared by any investigation.

“I strive to treat every student with dignity and respect, and I believe that I have been successful in doing so,” Dykes wrote, describing having “enthusiastically served in the public education system for 20 years” and over a year in Amherst, where she has received positive feedback on her work performance.

“Most of all, I cherish my relationships with students and staff and so it saddens me that false allegations have been made against me,” Dykes wrote. “However, I will continue to serve this school community to the best of my ability. I am confident that proper procedures will be followed with regard to these complaints and that I will be vindicated.”

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Santos wrote that he not only denies the contents of the report in the school newspaper, but that any investigation will show that he has not engaged in any wrongdoing during the four years he’s been at the middle school, where, like Dykes, he claims he has only gotten positive performance reviews.

“I strive to treat every student with dignity and respect, and I believe that I have been successful in doing so for over 20 years,” Santos wrote.

The remainder of his email echoes the response from Dykes: “I cherish my relationships with students and staff, and so it saddens me that false allegations have been made against me. However, I will continue to serve this school community to the best of my ability. I am confident that proper procedures will be followed with regard to these complaints and that I will be vindicated.”

Tania Cabrera, the seventh grade guidance counselor also named in The Graphic story, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Morris said in the statement that even though the investigation will take time to complete, the process to repair any harm to students and community has already begun and will continue.

“Middle School staff, including club sponsors, teachers and other staff members, are deepening supports throughout the community,” Morris said.

Paul Lyons, a retired middle school counselor, will be at the building for the remainder of the school year, along with additional counselors from other Amherst public schools, the ARPS Family Center and other agencies. In addition, drop-in circles with Restorative Justice staff members are being planned for students at both the middle and high schools as a place for dialogue and support during lunch and choice blocks.

The Straight and Gay Alliance advisers are presenting a student-created video to faculty and staff that shares what students want the adults at school to know about ways they can show up for LGBTQ+ students. The district and middle school are also partnering with the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts to plan training for students, families and staff, with one of the activities to be a “teach-in” day.

“That will be a day on which regular instruction will be set-aside for a portion of the day in order to focus on topics relevant to the concerns currently under investigation. More details will be shared as soon as they are finalized,” Morris said.

“The District will review the results of the external investigation when it is complete and will take appropriate actions and make any necessary changes to its procedures or protocols as a result. This includes reviewing the structures in place for reporting concerns or complaints and providing additional training, support, and structures for staff, students and their families at ARMS and across the District,” he stated.

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