An assistant superintendent for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools has been placed on administrative leave amid an outside investigation into allegations that counselors at Amherst Regional Middle School discriminated against transgender students, officials said.
Doreen Cunningham, the school district’s assistant superintendent for diversity, equity, and human resources, was placed on leave Friday, school officials said. She didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on Tuesday.
In a message to the school system on Monday, acting Superintendent Douglas Slaughter said Cunningham “has been placed on administrative leave pending the conclusion of the current Title IX investigation. Since this is a personnel matter, no further information can be shared until the investigation is complete and the District receives the independent investigator’s final report.”
Slaughter, the finance director for the school district, was appointed interim superintendent last week after Superintendent Michael Morris announced he was temporarily stepping down for health reasons.
Slaughter is slated to serve as interim superintendent through Sept. 30. He takes the helm at a time of turmoil in the school district, with the Amherst-Pelham Education Association recently voting no confidence in Morris and Cunningham. The union has demanded Cunningham’s resignation, alleging she created a “toxic” work environment and used unethical hiring practices.
Last week, Cunningham informed the School Committee she would not apologize or resign.
“I have done the job that I was hired to do and done it very well,” she said in an e-mail.
Cunningham said she looked forward to “the possibility of working with the community to make necessary changes.”
On May 9, The Graphic, Amherst Regional High School’s student newspaper, reported allegations by students, families, and staff that three counselors at the middle school had purposely misgendered students, failed to support students who faced gender-based bullying or harassment, and expressed religious beliefs in conversations with students and staff.
One parent told the publication that one counselor routinely misgendered her child, even when the student wore a hat with a large pin with their pronouns on it.
The parent told the newspaper she had raised concerns about the counselor and overall school climate for more than a year before she filed a Title IX complaint in April.
The three counselors— Hector Santos, Delinda Dykes, and Tania Cabrera — have denied the allegations and said that an investigation would show they have not engaged in “any wrongdoings.”
On May 15, Morris told the Globe he had received a complaint from a family to investigate staff members at the middle school. In response, he said he worked with the district’s Title IX officer to “secure an outside attorney” who specializes in Title IX investigations. Title IX refers to the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sex at educational institutions that receive federal funds.
“This action was taken over a month ago, before the media coverage of ARMS began, and is continuing with additional concerns and complaints that have come in since then, which have been immediately forwarded to the investigator,” Morris said at the time.
On Tuesday, School Committee Chair Ben Herrington said the controversies have been trying for the community.
“It’s been difficult, if I’m being honest,” he said. “We’ve kind of been in a state of turmoil.”
Herrington added that he feels the school district is “closer to an OK place right now” with the appointment of an interim superintendent.
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.