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Amherst schools put employees on leave, launch investigation into allegations of anti-LGBTQ behavior

Amherst Regional Middle School in Amherst, Massachusetts.
File photo
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Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Amherst Regional Middle School in Amherst, Massachusetts.

School officials in Amherst, Massachusetts, have ordered an independent investigation following allegations some middle school counselors failed to protect LGBTQ students.

The story was first reported this week by Amherst Regional High School’s student newspaper, The Graphic.

The publication interviewed students who said two councilors, Hector Santos and Delinda Dykes, are alleged to have not supported students who reported being bullied based on their gender. The Graphic also reported the counselors misgendered transgender students and staff while also using prayer and religion in conversations with students and colleagues.

A third counselor hired this year, Tania Cabrera, also allegedly engaged in similar behavior, according to the paper. She is reportedly the daughter of Santos.

Amherst Regional School Superintendent Michael Morris said in a statement Thursday that three staffers had been placed on leave, but he did not name them.

Santos said in a statement that he denied the allegations and that “any investigation into this matter will show that I have not engaged in any wrongdoing.”

Santos said he’s been in education for 20 years and at the school for four years. He said he always strives “to treat every student with dignity and respect”.

Cabrera and Dykes did not respond to a request for comment, but Dykes told MassLive she denied the allegations.

Morris, in an email to parents this week, said the district launched a Title IX investigation on April 14 after receiving a complaint. Title IX is the federal statute that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools or education programs receiving federal funding.

Morris said additional concerns were brought up during a regional school committee meeting on April 25. After that, the district received further complaints.

One parent raising concerns at the meeting was Amy DiCaprio, who has a child at Amherst Regional Middle School. In an interview Thursday, DiCaprio said she had since spoken to both Morris and the district’s Title IX coordinator, Marta Guevara. DiCaprio said they seem committed to investigating the allegations seriously and thoroughly.

"I think it's going to be an ongoing process and a lot of people are paying really close attention, so I hope that will lead to it being handled thoroughly,” she said.

DiCaprio, who has a background in public health and adolescent sexual health issues, said she was surprised by the alleged behavior.

"That level or type of bigotry and intolerance against LGBTQ+ people, particularly youth, really, to me, doesn't align with why I live in this community,” she said.

In his statement Thursday, Morris called the allegations “serious” and said “we understand how harmful the reported concerns have been to the community as a whole, but most particularly to the LGBTQ+ community.”

Morris said the district will begin to facilitate a dialogue at both the middle and high schools and provide support to students by bringing in other councilors and staff from elsewhere in the district, as well as a retired staffer.

He also said the district will work with the Stonewall Center at UMass Amherst to provide additional support and training for students, faculty and staff. He said one activity will be a “teach-in," where a part of a school day will be set aside to focus “on topics currently under investigation.”

Once complete, Morris said the school district will review the results of the investigation and take any necessary action.

“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 said.

Amherst Regional Middle School serves the towns of Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury. It has about 370 seventh and eighth grade students, according to data from state education regulators.

Corrected: May 12, 2023 at 3:26 PM EDT
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified The Graphic is the student newspaper of Amherst Regional Middle School. It is the student newspaper of Amherst Regional High School.
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.