Amherst principal to quit under fire

Date: 2002-01-16

Amherst principal to quit under fire

Lewana "Tina" Parker, center, speaks with Peter Vickery, an attorney for Amherst Regional High School Principal Stephen Myers, Tuesday night after the school committee meeting.


Wednesday, January 16, 2002 -- AMHERST - Amherst Regional High School 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 home, which he told the boy had a hot tub.

A statement distributed to Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee members Tuesday night by Myers' attorney, Peter Vickery, denies any wrongdoing. That statement, which Vickery attributed to Myers, says he plans to step down.

The incident, which occurred only months after Myers became principal in August, was confirmed by School Superintendent Gus A. Sayer in a letter to the boy's mother on Dec. 18. Sayer wrote that Myers "acknowledged the details" and had agreed not to meet with students outside of school. But Sayer did not publicly inform the school committee of the incident.

The Northwestern district attorney and Amherst police are investigating the matter.

Neither Myers nor Vickery could be reached for comment this morning.

The incident, not scheduled for discussion on the meeting agenda, was raised during the public forum portion of the meeting.

Jacqueline Brown-Hazard, a parent, asked the committee to address a letter that she said had been circulating in the community which included serious allegations regarding "an administrator in our system."

Amherst Regional High School Principal Stephen Myers intends to resign amidst allegations of inappropriate conduct with a student.

The letter written by Sayer to the boy's mother, a copy of which was obtained by the Gazette at the meeting, reads: "I did not mean to minimize or in any way excuse the details of the incidents you and [name deleted] conveyed to me earlier this month. Mr. Myers did request to see [name deleted] nipple and [name deleted] consented. Mr. Myers did invite [name deleted] to his home and tell him that he had a hot tub there. These actions were improper, as was his invitation to take [name deleted] to a movie, in my judgment."

Sayer wrote that Myers "recognized the seriousness of his behavior and the interpretations that others might give to them."

Sayer also wrote that he "would be extremely disappointed and forced to take strong action," were he to learn that any behavior resembling the reported incidents was continuing.

At Tuesday's meeting Sayer questioned how his letter became public. Lewana Parker, an advocate for the boy's family and a former employee at the high school, told Sayer and the committee that the letter had been circulated at the request of the boy's mother.

"She felt that the interest of the children was not the first and foremost concern in this community or by this school committee," Parker said.

According to Parker, the mother had been in constant communication with Sayer since the incident but felt that no one was listening to her or doing anything for her son.

"All she wanted was the district to pay for her son's therapy," Parker said this morning. The mother contacted Parker after receiving Sayer's Dec. 18 letter. Parker then spoke with both Sayer and Love about the incident.

Parker said she had hoped to keep the issue confidential but that a group of parents who were aware of the allegations decided it was best to make them public. Last night's school committee meeting was the first opportunity to do that, she said.

Jacqueline Wallace of Amherst, who was among a group of about 20 parents demanding answers, asked what procedures were in place to handle "allegations of sexual misconduct" by a staff member and at what point the public is informed.

Sayer, responding to a question from a parent at the meeting about how such cases are handled, said that he did not believe "bylaws" for handling such cases were in place. But committee Chairwoman Barbara Love quickly responded that existing policies and procedures governing harassment were applicable.

Sayer said each situation is different. When allegations of misconduct arise, he said, a thorough investigation is conducted.

"If they are found to be true, in every situation I know that staff member is dismissed immediately," he said.

Sayer did not comment on whether a thorough investigation had been done in this case.

Several parents said they were concerned about their children's safety at the school, and others demanded to know if a 51A report had been filed with the state Department of Social Services.

According to state law, any teacher or administrator who believes that a child under the age of 18 is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse, including sexual abuse, must orally report the condition immediately to DSS and file a written report within 48 hours of the oral communication.

When neither Sayer nor any member of the school committee responded to the question about the 51A report, Parker said that none had been filed until she did so Tuesday afternoon on behalf of the boy's mother.

"If I have to contact school committee members to make them aware that this is an issue, then we have a huge breach," said Parker. "How can I send my child here? Our first priority has to be a safe school."

Vickery said that he was unaware of the 51A filing until Parker's announcement.

Vickery left the meeting but returned later and handed the committee copies of a statement he said was from Myers, according to committee member Elaine Brighty.

The statement, unsigned, reads as follows:

"I am aware of certain allegations and of their distressing impact. I am sorry for that. That said, I did nothing wrong.

"At no time was there any improper behavior. But as we all know, people believe accusations regardless," the statement said. "I want to set the record straight but that is not possible in a climate of rumor and innuendo. My primary concern is for my staff and students, and for this community. For that reason I have decided to step down as Principal."

Myers, who was 55 when he was hired, moved to Amherst from Denver, Colo., where he was principal of a charter school.


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