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Teacher targeted again by graffiti

Superintendent Maria Geryk said graffi was found in a boy’s bathroom Thursday.

“It was written on the wall and it referenced the same teacher,” Geryk said. “It used the F-word,” Geryk said. “It said ‘F---’ that teacher.” Geryk told Gardner about the latest graffiti in a meeting Friday in which plans were being discussed for Gardner’s return to her classroom.

The discovery may push teacher Carolyn Gardner’s return to the high school back. Gardner was slated to resume teaching on Monday.

“She’s an amazing teacher. She wants to be back and working with her kids,” said Geryk, who added that she expected to hear from Gardner over the weekend as to whether she will be present on Monday.

Meanwhile, an email addressed to the community from Sonji Johnson-Anderson, who says she is Gardner’s sister, says Gardner will not return to work Monday.

“She has been struggling all week, trying to steel herself to resume her routine — and now this!” Johnson-Anderson wrote in reference to the most recent graffiti. “As a result she will not be returning on Monday. We continue to be hurt and bewildered by all this and must, as a community, apply increased pressure on the administration to actually do something about ending this for Carolyn.”

Johnson-Anderson did not immediately return an email seeking further comment.

An anonymous tip line has been set up on the high school’s website. People are asked to supply any information about the racist graffiti or other issues through the site. The school’s deans will be the recipients of the information and the submitter’s identification will be unknown to them, school officials said.

This school year, Gardner, who joined the Amherst faculty in September after being a Northampton High School teacher for a decade, has been the subject of four attacks. In October racist graffiti was left in a bathroom and on her classroom door. On March 24, a racial slur aimed at Gardner was left in a girls’ bathroom. An individual was found responsible for one of the incidents last fall and punished, Principal Mark Jackson has said. Police are investigating the incidents, including the most recent one in which officers took fingerprints around the graffiti.

Geryk said she has been talking with Gardner about what the school can do to make her feel more safe. Changes the school is making include tightening up classroom sign-ins and sign-outs and the use of hallway passes, having an adult monitor inside or nearby student bathrooms, and to have another adult with Gardner during the day.

“It’s another set of eyes,” Geryk said of the person who would be accompanying Gardner during the school day. “We want her to feel 100 percent comfortable and safe in our environment.”

In a letter to the community, Jackson informed people of the fourth attack on Gardner and went into detail on what the school system would do to protect Gardner and her sense of security. He said members of the math department have signed up to be in Gardner’s classroom during her prep and lunch periods so she is not alone; the department head will move her afterschool help sessions to Gardner’s room; and a math department member will walk Gardner to her car every afternoon. Under consideration as well is having a paraprofessional assigned to her class all day long, Jackson wrote.

“Our top priority remains ensuring Ms. Gardner’s safety, enabling her to resume her work with ARHS students,” Jackson wrote.

Geryk said the recent spate of racial hate has disturbed staff and students. The majority of the Amherst regional community wants to create a peaceful place for learning.

“We’re going to build the community that we want to see and offer our support,” Geryk said. “This is incredibly difficult and frustrating and painful for many people.”

Geryk said she thinks the attacks on Gardner are probably the work of just a few people.

“We have exceptional kids. Our students are wonderful and our staff is wonderful. Can we still have that and say there are things we need to work on? Yes, they both can be true,” she said.

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