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Bullying, race bias uncovered in ARHS event

AMHERST — Disciplinary action and other steps are proceeding against students who played a role in bullying and racial harassment at Amherst Regional High School in January.

Schools Superintendent Maria Geryk on Friday released findings from a month-long investigation into the behavior of these students and announced a series of actions aimed at improving the climate at the high school, including forming an Equity Committee that will meet on a regular basis and the development of an online investigation reporting system.

But Geryk said in a statement that she would not provide specifics about the individuals involved in the incidents, the disciplines handed out or the interventions school officials are using.

In addition, she would not comment on whether any faculty or staff have been disciplined or face corrective actions.

“The district is legally bound by confidentiality requirements for children as well as for personnel,” Geryk said. “And beyond the legal boundaries, I believe there is also a strong ethical obligation to protect the privacy and confidentiality of these members of our community, with sensitive information being shared on a need-to-know basis only.”

Over the past month, school officials conducted what Geryk described as a comprehensive and time-consuming investigation into the separate allegations of racial harassment and bullying.

“The seriousness and complexity of the situation required an exceptionally careful response,” Geryk said.

The investigation began following a Jan. 25 Facebook post by a student claiming he had been carrying a gun into the high school to protect himself from bullying. School was closed Jan. 27 in response to the perceived threat.

This investigation included examining social media posts, reviewing written statements from staff and students, interviewing staff, students and family members and examining district policies and definitions related to bullying and racial harassment.

“Separate behaviors” consistent with bullying and racial harassment were discovered, Geryk said.

“This information has now been shared with all those involved and the consequences will be implemented immediately,” Geryk said in her statement.

In addition to the investigation, Geryk said a thorough “after-action review” was conducted by both district staff and independent consultants brought into the system.

Geryk said these consultants understand student behavior, discipline, counseling, educational interventions and organizational improvement.

“The review was extremely valuable and highlighted some systems issues that must be attended to, including strengthening and clarifying communication protocols, clarifying expectations regarding behavioral intervention, strengthening investigation protocols, and updating the districts’ procedures for addressing bullying or bias-based harassment,” Geryk said.

Geryk said school officials are interested in developing so-called active bystander skills so that students, teachers and staff can quickly intervene and help resolve conflicts and ensure a positive and safe school culture. Enhancing the school climate is also essential, she said, and this will be done through the Equity Committee and the online investigation reporting system. Geryk said she will continue to update the community about how these steps are undertaken.

The lessons from this incident can be used to address deeper issues of racial equity affecting the schools and Amherst, she said.

“As a community, we clearly value inclusiveness and acceptance for all, but our system must also provide the supports necessary to actualize those values,” Geryk said.

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