Amherst High School in Chaos: Molestation by Principal Upsets Most Parents

Date: 2002-02-11
Source: Massnews.com

Amherst High School in Chaos
Molestation by Principal Upsets Most Parents
February 11, 2002

The Amherst high school is in chaos since it was revealed that its principal, Stephen Myers, is a man who loves to have sex with boys.

A high school student, Colin Jones, reports: "The Amherst Regional High School is in a state of anarchy. Fights and senseless acts of violence are being committed left and right."

A mother echoes these concerns: "At least when Myers was there, he was in the cafeteria and looked out for my daughter. My kids are not safer with him gone - actually the opposite."

Many residents question, as they watch this tabloid-style drama, whether the town will learn from this experience and grow up. Even after it became public knowledge that Myers had sex with children, the chair of the school committee, Dr. Barbara Love, refused to cast a single stone.

"As a black woman, I am leery of jumping to conclusions and condemning and convicting an individual on the basis of circumstantial evidence," she opined.

The many families who have already fled the public schools -- being fed-up with the bullying episodes, dumbed-down academics, decaying facilities, and amoral climate – now feel validated by their choice. Indeed, crises like these only serve to bolster the alternative education movement.

But the liberals, who dominate the town, are too embarrassed to embrace a traditional code of values. They have a rigid and unwavering faith in the ability of the State to educate and care for their children.

Therefore, they are reduced to complaining about "the process" and locating a scapegoat to blame, be it the superintendent or the school committee chairwoman.

An unnamed, former Amherst principal doesn't have much faith in townspeople's ability to become introspective. "I don't believe that Amherst leftists will reconsider their biases in the light of this sorry episode. They have too much invested. They have too much reason to rationalize and divert others’ attention away from the core issues."
There have been seven principals in fourteen years. Superintendent Gus Sayer had heart by-pass surgery last summer and Ron Bell, his long-time number two man, recently had a stroke.

Had this scandal happened in a politically conservative community like Provo, Utah, there would have been the predictable soapboxing about, “This is what comes of allowing the National Education Association to get in bed with the gay rights lobby.”

Sordid Details Shocked Town

In January, the front page of the hometown newspaper announced, “Principal Stephen Myers intends to resign his post, following allegations that he asked a male student to expose a nipple and invited him to his house.”

Sympathy for the beleaguered principal and the superintendent and school committee, who had attempted to keep the entire affair quiet, bottomed-out after the local newspapers published details released by a lawyer who represented the mother of the boy who was molested by Principal Stephen Myers.

The details, from an almost 100-page report, produced by investigators in Santa Cruz, California (where Myers had worked as an educator), included the principal's confession to being attracted to 14- to 16-year-old-males, and his admission to having had sexual relations with boys.

According to the same report, the foster mother of the four-year-old Romanian boy that Myers was hoping to adopt kept a journal. The Union-News noted what this woman had written about her foster child's time with Myers. She said the pair "watched 'silly movies' in bed of naked boys," and they engaged in “sexually suggestive' play, like the 'bouncing game.'”

The lawyer’s one-page statement closed with a self-serving, but perhaps deserved, pat on the back: "[I]t is apparent that the public disclosure of Myers' improper activities at Amherst Regional High School, although never authorized by the family and however awkwardly made, has served the public interest of protecting our client and other boys in the community from Mr. Myers. We hope that the community will come to recognize the courage it took for the family to raise and pursue these difficult issues given the failure of the School Department to deal with them adequately."

Defenders Stunned Into Silence

While Myers has never been charged with any crime, his defenders have been stunned into silence. In fact, the Amherst police became concerned for his safety and stepped up patrols around his home.

In addition to the cover-up that he conducted, Supt. Sayer also faces the unhappy task of trying to defend the extensive background check that he says was conducted on Myers, which included a Criminal Offender Record Information report.

Sayer reiterated to the local media that "Amherst officials checked Myers' professional history for the past 20 years, including his time in the Santa Cruz, Calif., school system."

Dean Tong, author of Elusive Innocence and a consultant in the Elian Gonzalez case, notes that unless schools required every incoming principal to submit to psychosexual testing and a polygraph, it would be difficult and expensive to spot a criminal. "It would cost (a school district) over $3000/case for testing of the suspected pedophile," says Tong. Given that Myers' starting salary was $85,000 annually, perhaps Amherst taxpayers would not blanch at paying less than four percent of that to detect a child molester.

But insiders say hubris, not a flawed process or lack of funds, is responsible for this crisis. The former Amherst principal quoted earlier writes: "From the smoke of this latest battle of the Amherst school wars, emerges the stench of the arrogant pietism of those who would prefer the school leadership of persons who fit well the profile of the politically correct."

He continues, "It is that pietism, that romantic insistence on the personal characteristics that signal hard leftist politics, multi-cultural banalities, and a fatuous attitude toward rigorous curriculum, that lies at the heart of the process that chose Mr. Myers as principal."

Anatomy of Nipplegate

In Amherst, education takes precedence over politics and fiscal prudence. The town proudly spends well above the state average to fund the high school.

But it's no secret that the gatekeepers of the Amherst school system have long been susceptible to political fads.

From exhibiting Love Makes a Family (a gay, photo display) in the elementary schools to canceling a production of West Side Story to avoid offending Puerto Rican students, progressive values take precedence over rigorous scholarship for the town's educational elite.

Still, it’s hardly a worker’s paradise. The previous high school principal with impeccable left-wing credentials, Scott Goldman, supported a police presence in the school. He left his post after only four years complaining about overly permissive parents.

And teachers risk being branded as "racists" if they grumble about the administration's obsession with diversity and multiculturalism.

With this scandal, however, even the tolerance crowd met its Waterloo.

It began on the evening of January 15, when a group of self-described activists crashed a routine school committee meeting and unleashed a firestorm during the public comment period. The group had widely-circulated copies of a letter that Supt. Sayer had written to the parent of the 15-year-old male student regarding Myers’ peculiar actions.

Sayer had written to the parents: "Mr. Myers did request to see [student's name omitted] nipple and [omitted] consented. Mr. Myers did invite [omitted] to his home and tell him that he had a hot tub there. These actions were improper, as was his invitation to take [omitted] to a movie, in my judgment."

Sayer had little to say at the meeting in response except to complain that his “private” correspondence had been made public.

The 56-year-old Myers, who is single, did not attend and denied any wrongdoing. But during the meeting, his attorney left and returned with a terse, unsigned statement from his client for the school committee. Myers stated that the truth would not be given a fair hearing “in a climate of rumor and innuendo" and that he planned to step down as principal. Myers was a recent import from a charter school in Colorado and was only halfway through his first year at Amherst.

Townspeople are Polarized

After the meeting, town residents became polarized into two camps. Most thought a decent man had been denied due process, while others were outraged that public officials had protected a pervert.

"Witchhunt" became the original battle cry from the larger camp which rallied around Myers. About fifty parents and concerned students had attended the January 15 meeting to complain about him. A week later, 200 parents, teachers and concerned taxpayers mobbed the meeting in support of him.

Chair Dr. Love could seem to do no right. At the first meeting, she allowed an hour-long, unscheduled public discussion of the sexual complaint. Most experts agree it should have been limited to the privacy of an executive session (allowed by the Open Meeting Law).

A week later, wearing her trademark African tribal garb, Love squelched comments from the defenders of the beleaguered principal, saying her leniency of the week before "could have easily have been a mistake, but it's in the past. Tonight I will interrupt."

After the second unsatisfactory meeting, tempers were short and questions went unanswered. Of concern:

Since Superintendent Sayer took the charges seriously enough to hire a lawyer and undertake an investigation of his own, he was duty bound to file a report with the Department of Social Services (G.L.c.119, 51A). The School Committee, or any other public official aware of the charges, also had a lawful duty to report it. Why didn't any of them file the 51A?

Had the background check on Stephen Myers been thorough?

Why did Supt. Sayer tell Myers that if this incident became public his job would be “untenable?" Did Sayer sense something amiss with Myers who later changed his story by claiming he never invited the student to his home for a dip in the hot tub?
Shortly after that meeting, a 51A was filed on behalf of the student, and the case is now being investigated by the Northwest district attorney’s office.

Strange as it may appear, support for Myers peaked when the Department of Social Services (DSS) snatched his adopted eight-year-old son and placed him in foster care. A spokesperson for DSS was succinct: "Whenever we petition for custody of a child we do so out of concern for the child's immediate safety."

But supporters thought it was merely a routine response to the original allegations, which had yet to be proved. The 16-person committee that selected Myers only five months earlier after a nationwide search, had reason to hope he would exonerated.

‘Only in Amherst’

"Only in Amherst." It’s a refrain that drives the long-time locals crazy.

However, unlike the previous refrains, this one could be very damaging to the reputation of its schools and the sale of homes in the town.

The previous refrains showed only the strangeness of the inhabitants. But this episode is much more serious as it makes one wonder about the safety of the young people in the schools – particularly with the attempt at a cover up.

Previous publicity occurred when the Town Meeting unanimously voted, on the eve of the Gulf War, to "continue negotiations with Iraq." Or, in 1988, when voters

snubbed Michael Dukakis in favor of Jesse Jackson. And how 'bout that United Nations flag that flies over the Town Common?

The students and staff of Amherst Regional High School have also made waves and headlines.

In October, the school was shut down for two days due to an anthrax hoax.

In November, school officials debated whether to disregard the state mandate that will require high school students to pass the MCAS test to graduate, and freshman Brad Bell was featured in Sports Illustrated for his participation on the girls' field hockey team.

But this mid-winter's bombshell is more shocking.

Many in this small town are wondering what’s it going to take . . . a Columbine?.

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