The latest candidate selected to be Easthampton’s next superintendent withdrew from the hiring process after students alerted Easthampton’s mayor to evidence that the finalist had posted “conservative and transphobic rhetoric” on Facebook, according to a copy of the students’ e-mail obtained by the Globe through a public records request.
Erica Faginski-Stark pulled out of the running for the superintendent job last week, just days after the Easthampton School Committee voted to offer her the job. At the time, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported Faginski-Stark withdrew after students raised concerns about her in an e-mail sent to Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, but the mayor did not specify the exact nature of the concerns.
A copy of the e-mail exchange obtained by the Globe, however, reveals that students in Easthampton told the mayor that they had found a Facebook page, which they said they believe belongs to Faginski-Stark, that had posted “conservative and transphobic rhetoric a multitude of times.”
“I am requesting that you please cross check with her about this account,” one student said to LaChapelle in an e-mail sent on April 10, the night the School Committee voted to hire Faginski-Stark as superintendent. “With the recent anti-trans picketing, many youth in the school are concerned and angry.”
LaChapelle responded to the student on April 12 and said she would follow up with Faginski-Stark and get back to the student. In another e-mail sent to the student on April 13, LaChapelle said she was actively following up on the concern and thanked the student for speaking out, adding that “no person should have to hold such concerns.”
The names of the students were redacted from the copy of the e-mail “to protect identity of minor for ongoing security concerns.”
In an interview with the Globe Wednesday, LaChapelle said that after receiving the student’s concerns, the matter was immediately investigated and she informed School Committee Chair Cynthia Kwiecinski about it. LaChapelle said she also looped in the Easthampton Police Department so that they could help verify if the account was real, which they did and found that it was connected to Faginski-Stark.
LaChapelle added that once Kwiecinski told Faginski-Stark about the concerns raised, she decided to withdraw her candidacy.
“When a concern comes forward around disregarding, lessening [or] bias against a particular group of community members, the assumption automatically is it is true,” LaChapelle said. “We need to proceed with a logical, rational investigation of then looking at what the concern’s about, verifying it and then going from there.... Our school committee members have acted out of what they feel best is for the department with what knowledge they had at any given time.”
The e-mail correspondence also included screenshots of the account believed to be Faginski-Stark’s Facebook page. In one post from March 2021, she said she is “surprised by the silence out there relative to Title IX and the lack of advocacy by women on behalf of equality for women and women’s sports” and linked to a “Defend Title IX Now” petition.
“Ladies, the glass ceiling is more real now than it’s been in generations,” Faginski-Stark says in the post. “Our choice to use our voice or to remain silent will determine not only the future of women’s athletics but equality for women everywhere.”
Title IX prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sex at education institutions that receive federal funds, but there has been an ongoing debate over the last several years about where and how transgender students are represented in the law. Part of the debate has focused on their right to play on sports teams, as Republican states have prohibited transgender students from participating in athletic competitions.
Another screenshot of the page from January 2021 showed a post that says, “it’s time we made our voices heard” and a link to a video titled “The End of Women’s Sports.”
Faginski-Stark, who is currently the director of curriculum and instruction at Ludlow Public Schools, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In the last e-mail, sent on April 14, LaChapelle informed the student that Faginski-Stark withdrew from the superintendent search after the mayor and School Committee chair started following up on the concerns raised.
The development is the latest setback for the Easthampton School Committee, which selected Faginski-Stark after the committee’s first pick, Vito Perrone, said his offer was rescinded for addressing his future colleagues as “ladies” in a negotiation e-mail. Faginski-Stark was one of three finalists for the superintendent position before Perrone was selected in March.
Faginski-Stark and the School Committee were expected to discuss negotiations last Friday but the meeting was canceled after she withdrew.
The Easthampton School Committee will once again need to determine how to move forward with the superintendent search, and plans to discuss next steps at its meeting on April 25.