Saturday, April 3, 2010

Gus Sayer: "Just go. I don't care how. Just go."

So in spite of being a private sector kind of guy, I know how CYA (Cover Your Ass) works.

I too, was guilty a few days ago when I first posted my reaction to the horrific South Hadley suicide by a young Irish immigrant girl, choosing to question why the DA came back so quickly with indictments against the brats involved with bullying teen-ager Phoebe Prince, but taking her sweet time with an incident in Amherst last year where a two-year-old died under the wheels of a school bus, eventually ruled an accident.

Thus demonstrating the Northwestern District Attorney is nothing if not conservative in the careful sense.

But if you are going to indict the pack of juvenile brats who drove young Phoebe Prince to suicide, then why not the paid professional adults who stood by and did nothing? And is sounds like, with Scheibel's use of the term "troubling" for their behavior, that she came pretty damn close.

My self-interested concern is that one persons bullying is another persons banter. And having been on the receiving end of Amherst Town officials trying to have me arrested for suggesting a town official should be removed from office because she no longer lived in town (eventually proven true), or another chief official railing against my "chilling effect" on his governmental board because of my respect for the Open Meeting Law, I'm just a tad sensitive to incidents sending us down that slippery slope to censorship.

Speaking of censorship, Gus Sayer when he was Amherst School Superintendent in 1999 first reacted to the tempest in a teapot about the Amherst Regional High School performing 'West Side Story' and being accused of racism responded unequivocally quick: "No group, neither in the majority nor in the minority, should have the ability to censor the decisions our community’s educators make about what to teach, what to read, or what to produce on the stage."
A few days later he collapsed like a cheaply constructed Chinese school building in an earthquake, allowing the even wimpier High School Principal Scott Goldman to cancel the play--the only time in history such sacrilege would occur.

Two years later Sayer hires Steven Myers as the new principal--at $85,000 annually--to lead the Amherst Regional High School, who at least by physical appearance is gay (Not, as Seinfeld would say, "That there's anything wrong with that."). In the People's Republic of Amherst certainly worth extra credit.

Soon thereafter a mother complained that Meyers propositioned her 15-year-old son, asked him to remove his shirt to expose his breasts, invited him out to a movie, and for a soak in his hot tub.

Superintendent Sayer took the charges seriously enough to hire a lawyer and undertake an investigation of his own, thus he was then duty bound to file a report with the Department of Social Services (G.L.c.119, 51A). He did not--at least not until the news broke and created a firestorm.

Sayer told Myers that if incident became public his Principal job would be “untenable."

This all occurred in January, 2002. Daily Hampshire Gazette digging and Amherst PD uncovered Myers had been under investigation in Colorado for pedophilia and Mass Department of Social Services stepped in and removed his recently adopted 8-year-old boy. Mr Meyers was never charged, disappeared, and has not been heard from since.

Mr Sayer soon "retired" after 14 years as Superintendent of the Amherst Regional High School, but quickly assumed the post at South Hadley High School following in the footsteps of Michael Smith whose brother Dan is still Principal. The 'Good Old Boys' network.

And they rest as they sadly say, "is history." A young girl who immigrated here from from Ireland, after continuous verbal battering, wraps a scarf given to her as a Christmas present by her sister only three weeks earlier around her neck to end the torment the only way she knows how. She was only 15.

At age 67, Gus Sayer is certainly traditional "old school" when it comes to running a publicly funded education empire. Time to head out to pasture. Actually, that time --too late for Phoebe Prince--was a long time ago.

Phoebe speaks

Slate Magazine strongly hints Gus should go

An Irish paper reports


Anonymous said...

The more media coverage I watch and read about this terrible situation, including this post and the utterly disgusting cross-examination of Mr. Sayer conducted by Anderson Cooper on CNN the other night, the more skeptical I am that anything good can come out of this.

My best attempt at complete honesty is this: to borrow the imagery from Hillary Clinton's book of many years ago, the village that would have raised this child simply doesn't exist, not in South Hadley, not here. Although I understand we need to find ways to get our brains around this tragedy and somehow identify, circumscribe and compartmentalize some problem and then blame somebody (not us) for it, it's not just a school or a school superintendent that's implicated here. This young girl, and her desperate predicament, was "none of our business" while she was alive.

When it comes to the well-being of other people, including our most vulnerable, our children, the overwhelming message of American life is "Butt out!" Haven't we heard the term "Do-Gooder" used as the height of insult these days?

The brutality of life in America is a much bigger problem that what is happening in one school or in one town. And it's happened on our watch as adults. Where did these kids get the idea that treating another human being this way was OK? Well, they got it from us collectively and the culture that we as adults have created.

So ridiculing Gus, or worrying about some imagined threat to free speech, seems way beyond the point to me.

Why do I bother talking back to the scurrilous stuff like this latest entry on this blog? I guess that I'm hoping that someone with a soul might be reading, wrestling with his or her own beliefs in the face of Mr. Kelley's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to the big issues of the day.

Rich Morse

LarryK4 said...

Speaking of soul, I was raised Irish Catholic and we were taught to "turn the other cheek."

But having grown up, a bit, I still believe everyone deserves a second chance...mostly everyone.

I draw the line at pedophiles, certain acts of murder or orchestrating the flying of commercial jets into civilian buildings.

Happy Easter Mr. Morse.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Morse - for the most part - on this one. It seems at times that we so desperately want someone to "blame" following tragedies such as this one that we rush to judgment and have someone accused, tried & convicted before the ink is even dry on the death certificate (see the old posts on the 2 year-old's death after being hit by a school bus for a prime example of this).

You can bet that are a LOT of adults in South Hadley who aren't sleeping very well these days because they feel they have at least some level of culpability in this whole tragedy involving Phoebe Prince. Parents, teachers, neighbors - anyone who had close contact with Ms. Prince and witnessed her growing personal pain but failed to step forward and offer assistance is helping to bear this cross of incredible guilt & sorrow right now. You can count on it. I believe Gus Sayer is one of these people.

Though I never cared for him as the Supt of our Amherst Schools that doesn't mean that he should automatically become the "fall guy" for this tragedy. I think that the takeaway for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy is this: don't hesitate to act. If we see an injustice being done to another then step through our initial fears & hesitations and "get involved." That's it. Anything else falls under the heading of political CYA and that never does anyone any good. Also: you can bet that South Hadley schools will be the most bully-free schools in the entire state from this day forward!

Anonymous said...

I think you are confusing the superintendent ( who because of his Amherst connection you have a perenial axe to grind) and the high school's principal. The principal is the person who is in charge at the school and who might have had some knowledge and influence on the bullying situation.

LarryK4 said...

As Truman once said, "The buck stops here."

(I have not ax to grind with Gus. We always got along well.)

VanDog said...

Simply amazing that a blogger in Amherst sheds more light on the background of this guy than any of the news outlets covering the story. What ever happened to investigative journalist? Thanks for posting this Larry.

Ed said...

I am going to see if I can flesh this out for a real article, but I make little distinction between the murder of Charlie Howard in 1984 and the murder of Pheebee Prince in 2010. And both I consider murders - Howard for those who forget was thrown into Bangor's Kenduskeag Stream (also by high school students) in what some consider an incident of "gaybashing" but it was much more complex than that.

The adults and authorites are responsible because they license the behavior. Had Prince been from Indonesia instead of Ireland, been Moslem rather than Christian, the teachers and admin would have instantly recognized this as racism and ended it.

But the kids did what they did -- to both victims -- because the adults didn't care. Because the ADULTS didn't consider either person worth worrying about. Because the ADULTS considered the perps to be above reproach.

What I would like to see - we never will but I would like to see - are civil suits by the mother against the wealthy parents of the perps. And 46 USC 1983 suits against each and every admin and teacher in that school - suits for which they are not indemnified.

THAT would be nice...

Anonymous said...

The student affairs person in me finds the blog disturbing - but for a different reason.

Clearly her father was a parent whom she identified with (possibly most identified with) and what has not been said is how she went from having the relationship there to winding up here without him.

At the very least, this shows how girls need daddys. And I somehow think that things might have been a tad different with an angry father going into go see Gus & Co.

I also find it quite significant that she used her sister's Christmas present to hang herself, knowing that it would be her sister who would find her.

Could this have been a case where mother & sister wanted to be in America while Pheebe didn't? If the blog was for SO Had High - the European date notation (day/month/year) is particuarlly notable - she would have known we do it differently over here but in doing it that way was saying something.

Where the hell were the guidance folk?!?!? If *I* can see a disaster coming why didn't they?

LarryK4 said...

I just added a hyperlink to the Irish newspaper that mentioned the heartrending detail about the Christmas scarf Phoebe used, and they also state that her Dad stayed behind in Ireland in order to sell their house.

Anonymous said...

So on Easter Sunday we have sunk into cheap voyeurism.

LarryK4 said...

Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday; Phoebe most certainly will not.

Go to Hell.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn Mazur, Amherst's schools HR dept. head and S. Hadley school committee member (to this very day), had a lot to say 9/30/09 (lonnnnng before the suicide) about bullying...

A whole lot (left end):

Why is she still working in our district?

Anonymous said...

Isn't Kathryn Mazur the former Amherst school secretary with only a high school diploma who was promoted to this posh HR position at pretty much double her secretary's salary? It pays to have connections in the Town of Amherst...

LarryK4 said...

Well, she was probably astute enough to fire your Anon ass.

Anonymous said...

"No ax to grind against Gus".

No, no ax to grind.

Coulda fooled me.

LarryK4 said...

Not hard to fool Anons.

Actually, I was more disappointed than anything else when Gus caved on 'West Side Story'. Because he at first came out swinging in its defense, but then quickly washed his hands of it.

Funny thing is I pounded him in a Bulletin column at the time and used the quote he first issued defending the First Amendment.

Wikipedia uses the quote but is looking for a citation. One of these days I will have to go to the Umass library and look over my West Side Story files to get the memo he initially issued.

Diahni said...

Admit you looked the other way, apologize, and get on with it. No child should have to go through what this poor girl endured. Shame on you.