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Amherst teacher leaves following racist graffiti, hostile incidents

AMHERST — The Amherst Regional High School teacher repeatedly targeted by racist graffiti and other hostile incidents since September will not return to finish the school year following the discovery of another threatening note last week.

That police and school officials have been unable to identify those responsible has taken its toll on Carolyn Gardner, said her friend and supporter Sonji Johnson-Anderson. “Every time there is an attack, it takes her back through all of the ones that happened before,” Johnson-Anderson said Monday. “It’s extremely, extremely stressful. It’s impacting her health and she just didn’t see how she could endure the possibility of anything else occurring.”

Johnson-Anderson said Gardner has not decided whether to return in September. Amherst Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson informed teachers and students about Gardner’s decision via the public address system at the end of the school day Friday, but declined public comment. “Like in the past, these are personnel matters,” he said in an email message.

Amherst Police Detective Sgt. David Knightly said police officers were at the high school again Monday continuing their investigation of the note found in the school library last Wednesday. The note was addressed to MJ, presumed to be Jackson, and said “We are bringing a gun to school.” It was signed in cursive, “Carolyn Gardner.”

Police determined that the threat did not pose a danger to the school, although officers were stationed at Amherst Regional at the start of the school day both Thursday and Friday of last week to allay fears, Knightly said.

Gardner, who is black, began teaching math at Amherst Regional High School this school year after working at Northampton High School for 10 years. In October, a vulgar note targeting her was found in a school bathroom and racist graffiti was scrawled on her classroom door. Another hostile note addressing her was found in a bathroom in March.

Also over the course of the school year, bolts in her classroom chair were removed, air was released from her car tires and her cellphone was stolen. A student was disciplined for the bathroom graffiti found in October, but no other suspects have been identified.

The events triggered an outpouring of community support, including rallies and meetings with the School Committee where people voiced their support for Gardner and called for officials to take vigorous measures on her behalf.

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