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?
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.