Monday, January 7, 2013

Murder, Suicide, Pedophilia and Secrecy

Amherst Regional High School

I'm an observer/reporter who has witnessed first hand many of the epic Amherst blunders brought on by Political Correctness run amok: cancelling a production of "West Side Story" yet allowing that same High School to perform R rated "The Vagina Monologues" only five years later; or over the past eleven years, the pernicious problem with annually displaying downtown commemorative American flags on 9/11.

But one incident -- the sordid saga of Steven Myers -- a pedophile who ever so briefly commanded the Amherst Regional High School, stands out at the head of the class.  And if School Superintendent Gus Sayer or the Regional School Committee had their way, his reign would have been  a l-o-t longer. 

A recent in depth  Boston Magazine article asks important questions (with an obvious answer):  Did Steven Myers molest his own adopted child (whom he brought to Amherst back in the summer of 2001 when first hired but was taken away by state authorities after the local incident came to light) and did that send the boy on a downward spiral culminating in a murderous streetfight two years ago?

Well, yes.

The question I have is how did this pedophile manage to stay out of jail, and how does he continue to acquire jobs in K-12 education?

In Amherst the answer was pretty simple:  the hiring committee was lied to in recommendations by previous associates and the committee relied on a CORI report, which of course was clean since it only includes crimes in the state of Massachusetts.  His misdeeds with children occurred in Santa Cruz, California and Denver, Colorado and he was never arrested for them.

The previous ARHS Principal, Scott Goldman, had stirred up a bees nest during his brief four year tenure when he pushed for a police officer assigned to the schools.  Which in Amherst at the time was kind of like suggesting a Republican be appointed school Superintendent. 

So when it came time to do a background check on Goldman's replacement the 16-member search committee couldn't be bothered to ask APD to do what they do best:  investigate.  And it would have only taken one phone call by them to either police departments in Myer's past job locations to discover his fascination with young boys. 

Sayer had written a letter to the mother of the 15-year-old freshman acknowledging inappropriate conduct by Principal Myers and basically saying he had issued a stern warning not to do it again.  Meanwhile he told Myers that if  "news got out" his position as principal would be "untenable."

A group of about 50 concerned parents and friends of the family invaded the January 15, 2002 School Committee meeting with copies in hand of Sayer's letter, which he later complained about its release, calling it  "private".  Although Myers was not present, his lawyer left the meeting and soon returned with a statement from him saying he was resigning.

The following week, January 22, 2002 , four times as many parents and teachers descended on the School Committee meeting to voice strong support for Myers, including a passionate statement from teacher (now, ten years later, Chair of the very same Regional School Committee) Kip Fonsh:  "I am saddened and angered at the devastation and havoc created by the unfortunate and ill-advised public airing of these issues."

Ninety teachers also signed a statement of support for their former boss and unveiled it at a press conference January 16, the day after the chaotic School Committee meeting.   And a letter circulated by two male students naively supporting Myers was also signed by  575 students (about one-third of total enrollment).

Their close, in light of recent events, is particularly striking:  "The treatment you have received throughout this ordeal has been both disgusting and unfair.  And though some community members have been eager to condemn you, we assure you that we will stand behind you as both an educator and as a person.  We wish you the best in the future, and hope that your bold spirit serves you well wherever you may end up."

Lost in the avalanche of support for Myers was the other question dissident parents had for the School Committee at the original January 15 meeting:  Why had Superintendent Gus Sayer not filed the state mandated 51A report with authorities when he first heard the mother's complaint about inappropriate contact with her 15-year-old son?

Sayer choose instead to investigate the matter himself, and then send a "private" letter to the mother to try to quietly appease her -- but at the same time confirming inappropriate behavior took place.  An article in the Republican last year on his retirement from South Hadley High School is especially revealing:

Still, Sayer said he had misgivings about Myers almost from the beginning. A few months before the nipple story became public, he talked to the principal about reports that he spent a lot of time behind closed doors with male students.

“I ordered him to change his behavior,” Sayer said. “Then the whole thing blew up.” 

So he had misgivings almost from the beginning and then he gets a complaint from a mother about inappropriate activity with a modus operandi befitting of those misgivings, but still does not file a 51A report?

Once the news broke of Myers sordid past even die hard supporters became mute.  Myers silently slinked off into the sunset.  Gus Sayer retired a year after the Amherst firestorm only to sign on as Superintendent with South Hadley High School four months later. 

On January 14, 2010 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, using a scarf given to her as a Christmas present by her younger sister, committed suicide.  Months of outright bullying had taken its toll.  A new firestorm had now ignited under Gus Sayer's watch.

And his modus operandi changed little from the way he handled the Myers case eight years earlier.  DA Elizabeth Scheibel branded the action of administrators "troublesome" while directly refuting Sayer's assertion that school officials were never made aware of the bullying:

"Phoebe’s harassment was common knowledge to most of the South Hadley High School student body. The investigation has revealed that certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of Phoebe Prince before her death. Prior to Phoebe’s death, her mother spoke with at least two school staff members about the harassment Phoebe had reported to her".

DA Dave Sullivan, Scheibel's successor, went even further:  "Elizabeth Scheibel described it as troublesome.  But I think that's an under statement!"  He continues, "Comments made today by Gus Sayer did not fully reflect on the gravity of what happened in the school."

Calls for Sayer's resignation fell on deaf ears. 

South Hadley would eventually pay the Prince family $225,000 to hold harmless Sayer and all other town/school officials.  In May of 2011, a Hampshire Superior Court Judge Judge C. Brian McDonald  calling their actions "shameful", fined the South Hadley School Committee $5,000 for violating the Open Meeting Law, a secret meeting used to give Sayer a contract extension and a 3% raise. 

Of course South Hadley School Committee's most shameful act of all occurred when they hired Gus Sayer in the first place. 


Anonymous said...

All this and so much more is why Amherst will be paying for my children to go to High School a couple of towns over.

Anonymous said...

Is there some way we can blame any of this on Maria Geryk? Come on, there must be a way she and Team Maria were connected! After all, isn't she to blame for everything bad that happens in the Amherst schools?????
Where is the sarcasm font when you need it?

Larry Kelley said...

I'm working on that (the sarcasm font, not the Maria Geryk connection).

Anonymous said...

Great story Larry, although it's disturbing, to say the least. Very sad state of affairs here in the school and administration. So glad we pulled our kids out by middle school. It just never felt like a good system here. Thanks Larry.

Tom McBride said...

Was it wrong to allow the production of the Vagina Monologues?

Anonymous said...

OK, anon 12:11, HOW will Amherst be paying for your kids to go to school in another town? said...

tks post :))

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:31
If you worry about that, you should really find out how many kids are in the system that don't even live in the school district. There are kids that don't even live in this state in there. Our tax money at work! Ha!

Anonymous said...

Good riddance to you and your kids, Anon 12:11.

Anonymous said...

Just one correction: A pedophile preys on prebubescent youths. He is a Sexual Predator.

Anonymous said...

It seems almost like a institutional reflex to protect the adults with silence and inaction. We see this time and time again. Children are left unprotected and ignored and the adults uninvestigated. When the truth comes out there is an outcry.

Larry Kelley said...

Anon 9:55 AM: My reliable sources strongly suspect he adopted his son in order to molest him from a very early age.

Hence the term pedophile.

Dr. Ed said...

Just one correction: A pedophile preys on prebubescent youths.

No, a pedophile preys on at risk children -- we can argue the "prebubescent" or not, but the emphasis I want to make is on the AT RISK part.

There are three things that almost all victims of sexual abuse have in common:

1: A home life that s*cks.

2: The desire to have the love and attention of an adult, and the willingness to pay almost any price to get that.

3: No adult -- either parent, relative or clergy or whatnot -- no adult that the child feels safe enough with to go to and tell what has happened to him/her/it afterwards.

These are the children that these predators prey on -- and while we can (and should) go after the predators, may I suggest that perhaps we ought also be a bit concerned that we have these vulnerable children in the first place? Even if they aren't molested, these are some really basic social needs that aren't being met and ought we not be a tad concerned about that?

Dr. Ed said...

I'm a guilt and innocence kind of guy -- and I have three problems with the whole mess of Mr. Myers.

First, if *all* he did was reassure a teenaged boy that he "didn't look like a girl", what exactly is wrong with that?

Teenaged boys think - and are teased for -- having what appear to be breasts, while teenaged girls think -- and are teased - for not having them. Welcome to the brutal reality of teenaged life, and if *all* Myers did was (a) ask to see the male chest in question and (b) say "no, you don't look like a girl", I can see that as being educationally sound.

It is the same form of assurance that a MD might give someone upon X-raying an arm and saying that it isn't broken.

So what - exactly - did Myers do wrong? I say this as one who once refused to expel lesbian students from his dormitory merely because they were lesbians - I look at what people do and what did Myers do?

Second -- His misdeeds with children occurred in Santa Cruz, California and Denver, Colorado and he was never arrested for them.

Then, legally, it didn't happen. Even if he had been arrested, if he neither plead (to something) or was convicted, it legally didn't happen. That is what "presumption of innocence" means, that is what "due process of law" means -- we don't condone anonymous charges and lynch mobs in this society.

That part about having the right to face one's accusers and having a public trial are in the Constitution for a REASON, people back then knew what would happen if those rights weren't -- and they are important here too.

Third, why has no one had the guts to actually prosecute him for something? Or at the most basic, get him to agree to voluntarily give up his teaching credentials in exchange for not being prosecuted -- either one would solve the problem.

Larry, what if the APD had been asked to investigate and had called the Denver PD -- what legally should the Denver PD have said -- and that wouldn't have been both slander/libel and "defamation of character"?

Larry, how would you feel if the Amherst PD were to tell someone that you were someone who lurked in an elementary school so much that you were trespassed from it (the hot water incident) and then were stalking a female governmental official (the selectboard/residency incident)?

At least in your case there was an actual Trespass Order issued -- which I doubt was done in Myers.

So Larry, you are going for this dream job as Head Karate Whatever in California which you don't get because the APD says the above about you -- would you be upset? I bet you would sue, particularly if the job paid well.

I was in the Boy Scouts at the height of the child molestation problem and even though I successfully avoided them, I have absolutely no love these people. But I still am a "guilt and innocence" kind of guy and if he hasn't ever even been charged with anything, that is someone else's fault.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kelley,

Is it possible that the educators you implicitly blame were acting based on the knowledge they had at the time, and the belief that people in this country are innocent until proven guilty?

Who knew at the time the teachers supported the principal that Myers had a history of child abuse? Do you think all of those teachers knew that? If you really did think that about teachers in the Amherst schools, why do you send your children to those schools?

Larry Kelley said...

Gus Sayer's letter to the mother was widely distributed the night before the teachers issued their petition of support.

And in that letter Gus admitted there was inappropriate actions on the part of Myers.

Commenting said...

As the superintendent of the Regional School Committee, how does one acknowledge such inappropriate actions have taken place and then simply send that mother a letter saying it won't happen again. Syer's should have been released immediately. What's a "stern warning" to a man who apparently had previous accusations of inappropriate conduct? And I do believe that should play a strong role in his hiring in the first place, regardless if legally charged or not. Two separate occasions in two different states must be a red flag, no?

Tom McBride said...

I don't think I explained enough when I simply said, "Was it wrong to allow the production of the Vagina Monologues?". I think Amherst was breaking NEW GROUND when they allowed the production. Yes, not everybody understood it, but it seemed a bunch of intelligent and open minded young women were willing to put on a production which to them, and some others, was of great value. Instead of criticizing them why aren't we supporting the courage it took to undertake a project like that? Would you and I have had the courage? I have no sympathy for those that are close minded enough not to support their endeavor.

Larry Kelley said...

The "C-word," like the "N-word," does not belong in civilized society. Period.

And a play should not glorify sex between an adult and a minor (Amherst of all places should have known that).

Tom McBride said...

In 2007, because of controversy and budget issues, the show (The Vagina Monologues) moved to The Northampton Center for the Arts and raised several thousand dollars for women's charities. In 2008, because of continued support by a large number of students and parents (and we should respect their opinion, whether it's ours or not), the show again took place at the high school with a very energetic response and raised $8,000 for charity. And this took place in Amherst despite previous criticism. After all that had taken place, a large enough part of the community, disagree with them or not, put their stamp of approval on something positive. If it is not for the taste of some, we respect their opinion.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, and about half the money raised went to "The Men's Resource Center" which, thankfully, has since gone out of business.

And, even more thankfully, the schools have not even thought about putting on that work of "art" again.

Anonymous said...

I guess we know how Larry's reviews of "Huckleberry Finn" and "Django Unchained" are gonna go...

I suppose Larry thinks we should all engage in more civilized activities such as knocking another man out of consciousness with a kick to the head.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy for anons 12:11 and 8:01 that they have a perfect school system to go to where there are none of societies ills present.

Keep runnin'...

Anonymous said...

Larry, it seems that you haven't watched any real news in quite a while... we do not live in a civilized society.

Anonymous said...

What do you have against the mens resource center?

Larry Kelley said...

Nothing now.

Dr. Ed said...

I always considered the Men's Resource Center to be the gender equivalent of the Lodz Judenrat. That's what I "had against them"...

Instead of criticizing them why aren't we supporting the courage it took to undertake a project like that?

I have no doubt that a significant percentage of both male and female ARHS students are no longer virgins. And if they were to present a play that involved actual sexual intercourse, live on the stage, critics would say that it was quite "courageous" of them and all the rest.

But I also like to hope that some grownup would step in and say "you folk are minors and you are not going to do this, not as part of a school play" -- and in the absence of this, that the State Department of whatever Deval is currently calling DSS would step in and investigate the whole thing as child abuse.

Do we have any limits anymore? What if some kid wanted to commit suicide as part of a performance -- to actually kill himself as an artistic "statement" of some sort. Would we purchase a gun and ammo with school money to facilitate this, or would we say "no, son, you aren't going to do this..."

Dr. Ed said...

The ARSD is damn lucky I wasn't a student when they performed (!) the Vagina Monologues because the next day, I personally would be using every obscene word uttered during the play in conversations with the most assertive female teachers and administrators, openly daring them to do something about it.

A school play -- any officially approved school function -- by definition is in compliance with the school's code of conduct. Hence any word used in the play becomes exempt from any sanction because the school approved its use in the play, and thus for all school purposes.

And I say "most assertive" because I am not a bully. And I'd have done it -- do those of you who know me personally have any doubt I wouldn't have? I don't.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ed
(I am aware that this is sometime later after the fact and that you may not and probably will not read this), but I'm just going to educate you on social morals; if an adult (especially one who's only job is to teach) asks you to see a part of your body that only a preferred Doctor should, chances are that you are a sick fuck that is self seeking for a sexual charge through children.
Also, yes you are right about him not being arrested so -->technically<-- yes he is not guilty, BUT that doesn't rid the fact that there is also a great chance that he in fact is guilty, just had a good lawyer; for example, OJ Simpson, was not guilty but, let's be real with our selves, he did it, look at the situations he went through. As of said that now look at the situations being involved Myers; involved in several cases of pedophilia outside of state lines, adopts a child, and has more suspicions of pedophilia.
In any case, this does not sound right. And I think I'd think it's safe to say that any person in their right mind would see that.
And as being of teen age myself, I would most definitely make it in my best effort to stay away from that man, and after reading your justifications to Myers' actions, I would most definitely make it in my best effort as well to stay away from you too.