Three Amherst Regional Middle School counselors absolved of Title IX offenses

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-15-2024 2:45 PM

Modified: 04-16-2024 2:09 PM


AMHERST — Even with complaints that their actions and behavior, including intentional misgendering students were likely offensive, three counselors at the Amherst Regional Middle School have been cleared of violations of the federal Title IX law in response to complaints received by the district, with determinations that they didn’t deny any student equal access to the district’s educational programs or activities.

The decisions, all signed by Talib Sadiq, the principal at both the middle and high schools, were made last fall and released by the central office Friday at the request of the Gazette.

The determinations of responsibility, as they are known, follow an in-depth Title IX investigation and other related reviews completed by Edward Mitnick, CEO of Just Training Solutions in Springfield, whose reports showed that school leaders failed to adequately protect LGBTQ+ students from bullying and harassment by classmates and staff members and allowed offensive conduct by at least one employee to continue despite multiple complaints.

In all three decisions, Sadiq notes that none of the findings from the investigations meet the Title IX threshold of “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive such that it effectively denies a person equal access to the district’s educational program or activity.”

The three separate reports go into details about the actions of then school counselor Delinda Dykes, adjustment counselor Hector Santos and school counselor Tania Cabrera and the reasoning for finding no Title IX violations.

For Dykes, there is pointed criticism of her not following Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidance on proper pronoun use, as she repeatedly misgendered students, called them by their deadnames and misgendered a student to a parent. There are also contentions she used an offensive term in front of students and, along with Santos, uttered the phrase “in the name of Jesus we pray that the LGBTQ gay demon that wants to attack and confuse these kids to leave this school now” during a prayer session.

“The fact that the respondent was assigned many LGBTQ students is not an excuse for misgendering them. Rather, it should have been reason for her to make every effort to use their preferred pronouns at all times. Yet she repeatedly misgendered students, and a staff member, to parents, staff and the students themselves, verbally and in writing, even after being corrected,” Sadiq writes.

While not a Title IX offense, Sadiq notes: “This same conduct by the respondent, however, constitutes conduct unbecoming a professional educator and may violate other district policies. This is beyond the scope of this responsibility determination.”

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For Santos, the investigatory reports state he repeatedly misgendered a student and misgendered other students, defending his language because English is his second language, and reposted a homophobic and transphobic cartoon on Facebook, which he said he published because that is how he raised his own children.

“Even assuming that was the respondent’s intent in making the post, it is difficult to understand how he could believe that it did not have the potential to impact the comfort level of the LGBTQIA+ students,” Sadiq writes.

But as in the Dykes determination, Sadiq writes: “This same conduct by the respondent, however, constitutes conduct unbecoming a professional educator and likely violates other district policies this is beyond the scope of this responsibility determination.”

Cabrera was the lone educator cleared in the reports. Sadiq writes that her saying, “You used to be your father’s little girl,” and repeatedly misgendering a student came to light when she self-reported that.

“I believe a reasonable person would find Ms. Cabrera’s statement to be offensive,” Sadiq writes. “I do not believe, however, that her conduct with respect to finding 1 was severe or pervasive because her statement was specific to one student, she never made the statement to the student or anyone else again and she reported herself to the teacher leader.”

Back in February, interim Douglas Slaughter informed the Regional School Committee that the letter of determination would follow the Mitnick report.

“That’s a determination of whether they did or they did not violate Title IX,” Slaughter said.

Pelham representative William Sherr said Slaughter told the School Committee in February that the decision on whether Title IX had been infringed would be made by Sadiq in consultation with school counsel.

Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao said at the time she was under the impression that Mitnick determined there was a violation of Title IX.

“I didn’t realize there was another decision to be made as to whether the law had been violated,” Shiao said.

“Yes, there is an additional step, it’s called the determination of responsibility,” Slaughter said, adding that it holds a weight of a legal determination.

Three district employees were let go as the result of the Mitnick reports.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.