Public Comment Q&A

There have been some questions about Public Comment at School Committee meetings recently, so here is a Q&A on this topic.

Q: What is Public Comment?
A: Public Comment is an umbrella term covering comments and statements made by members of the public at a public meeting. If you wish to address the School Committee, and you wish to have your comments be heard or read by the general public, you could do so during the Public Comment period.

Q: How do I make or submit a Public Comment?
A: There are multiple ways to make or submit a Public Comment at School Committee meetings. 

  • Send an email to before 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting. Your email will be displayed on the screen during the Public Comment period, and it will be posted as an attachment in the Public Comment agenda item for that meeting on the School Committee’s Boarddocs site.
  • Send a text to 413-362-1891 before 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting. Your text will be displayed on the screen during the Public Comment period, and it will be posted as an attachment in the Public Comment agenda item for that meeting on the School Committee’s Boarddocs site.
  • Leave a voicemail at 413-362-1891 before 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting. Your voicemail will be played during the Public Comment period.
  • Attend the meeting in person and make your comment in person during the Public Comment period. There is usually no sign-up for in-person Public Comment.

Whenever there is Public Comment at a meeting, the instructions for how to make or submit public comment can be found in the Public Comment item on the agenda. (Here is an example.)

Q: I sent an email to the School Committee. Why was it not shown during the Public Comment period?
A: There are a few reasons why emails may not be shown.

  • If you sent the email to a different email address (such as or, it would not be considered Public Comment. Some people want to contact the School Committee and do not want their email displayed for the public. In order to be certain that an email is intended for Public Comment, individuals are asked to send it to the specific email address for Public Comment (
  • If the email was not received before 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting it may not be shown. There has to be time allowed for the chair to compile all emails received into one document, so we ask that comments be sent before 3:00 pm.

Q: Is Public Comment required at School Committee meetings?
A: No, Public Comment is not required by law. But the School Committee’s practice is to have a Public Comment period at each meeting. This is at the discretion of the chair.

Q: Is it super confusing, or is it just me?
A: It’s not just you; it is super confusing! Different public bodies have their own policies and practices about Public Comment. For example, the Amherst Town Council does not accept Public Comments via voicemail. They also do not display email or text Public Comments at their meetings, but they do make them available for viewing by the public on their website.

The best way to get the most up-to-date info on how to make or submit Public Comment for a School Committee meeting is to look at the Public Comment agenda item for that meeting. (Here is another example.)


At the joint meeting of the Regional School Committee (RSC) and the Union 26 Committee* on Thursday, May 18, ARPS Finance Director Douglas Slaughter was appointed acting superintendent to fill in for Michael Morris while Mike is on medical leave.

The Regional School Committee voted 7-1-1 and the Union 26 Committee voted 5-0 to appoint Slaughter acting superintendent until September 20, 2023, or until Morris returns, or until the committees decide otherwise by majority vote. Doug’s additional compensation (on top of his existing salary) will be $700 per week.

Doug was present at the meeting and accepted the appointment. The RSC and Union 26 chairs (Ben Herrington and Peter Demling, respectively) will finalize the details of Doug’s contract.

Regional School Committee:
Herrington YES
Shiao YES
Demling YES
McDonald YES
Sullivan ABSTAIN
Wolf NO
Stancer YES
Rhodes YES
Kenney YES

Union 26 Committee
Demling YES
McDonald YES
Rhodes YES
Stancer YES
Hall YES

Watch the video recording of the meeting on Amherst Media:

* The Regional School Committee and the Union 26 Committee (made up of three representatives from Amherst and three from Pelham) make decisions about the superintendent role.

What’s happening: May 17 and 18

At last night’s joint meeting of the Regional School Committee (RSC) and the Union 26 Committee* the bodies jointly decided the following:

We identified eight people as potential candidates for the acting superintendent position. The person in this position will fill in as superintendent while Dr. Morris is on medical leave. These eight people each had at least one committee member “nominate” them for the position:

  • Trevor Baptiste
  • Faye Brady
  • Mary Custard
  • Mikki Gromacki
  • Marta Guevara
  • Susan Hollins
  • Doreen Reid
  • Douglas Slaughter

Today, Wednesday May 17, each of these folks was contacted by the RSC and Union 26 chairs and asked to confirm their interest in the role (or not), and provide a CV and a written statement of interest, with a deadline of 5:00 PM today.

After 5:00 PM today (possibly Thursday morning), the list of candidates who have expressed interest will be published, along with their CV and statement. Members of the public will be asked to send input and feedback via email.

If you are an ARPS family, keep an eye on your email for this message from the chairs. I will do my best to post here when the list is published.

THEN on Thursday, May 18 at 7:30 PM there will be another joint meeting open to the public to discuss the remaining candidates and vote to appoint one as acting superintendent. It is the intention of the committees to vote on Thursday, and not delay this any further.

TO SUM UP: The final list of candidates for the acting superintendent role will be published by Thursday morning. On Thursday evening the school committees plan to appoint one individual to the role.

* The Regional School Committee and the Union 26 Committee (made up of three representatives from Amherst and three from Pelham) make decisions about the superintendent role.

What’s happening? Meeting TONIGHT (Tuesday, May 16)

It’s been challenging, even for me, to keep up with what’s happening this week, when and where the meetings are, and what will take place.

Here is what I know:

  • There will be a meeting TONIGHT, Tuesday, May 16, starting at 5:30 PM in the library of the Amherst Regional High School (to access the library entrance after hours, go around to the east side of the building and enter through those doors).
  • This will a joint meeting of the Regional School Committee (RSC) and the Union 26 Committee (made up of three representatives from Amherst and three from Pelham). These two bodies make decisions about the superintendent role.
  • The agenda states that we will vote on going into Executive Session (a meeting not open to the public), then there will be public comments, then we will discuss appointing a temporary superintendent.
  • The chairs of the Regional School Committee and the Union 26 Committee have already stated that we will not discuss appointing a temporary superintendent in Executive Session. That discussion will happen in open session.
  • My guess is that the committees will not approve going into Executive Session, and that the entire meeting will be open to the public.
  • If you want to make a live public comment at the meeting, there probably will not be a sign-up list. You will probably just step up to the microphone when the Public Comment period opens. (I could be wrong about this; it’s possible the chairs will institute a sign-up list at the meeting. If that is the case, they will announce it at the start of the meeting.)
  • Here are three other ways you can provide pubic comment (do these before 3:00 PM today to ensure they will be included in the meeting tonight):
    Send an email to
    Send a text to 413-362-1891
    Leave a voicemail at 413-362-1891
    Emails and texts will be displayed at the meeting; voicemails will be played at the meeting.
  • If you would like to send an email on this topic that you do not want to be displayed as public comment at the meeting, I suggest that you send it to both and

I hope to see you at tonight’s meeting!

I believe you and I believe in you

I stand in full support of LGBTQ+ students and staff at ARMS and throughout our school district, and all LGBTQ+ individuals. Anti-queer rhetoric, behavior, or bullying has no place in public schools, nor in a civil society. The information and stories reported in “‘It’s life or death’: failure to protect trans kids at ARMS a systemic problem” (en Español: “‘Es vida o muerte’: la falta de protección de los niños trans en ARMS es un problema sistémico“) are harrowing, heartbreaking, and enraging.

When people stand up and share about being bullied or mistreated, I believe them. When you tell me about how you were harmed by someone who was supposed to help, I believe you. When a mom says that she feared her child wouldn’t make it through the night without harming themself, I believe her.

I also believe in this community. I believe that we can insist on the changes needed to repair the harm that has been done to individual students and to our student community, and to ensure that the harm does not repeat or continue.

I invite you to attend the next meeting of the Regional School Committee, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday, May 16, starting at 6:30, in the Amherst Regional High School library (to access the library entrance after hours, go around to the east side of the building and enter through those doors). The meeting has not been posted yet, but when it is you will find it on the School Committee’s “Boarddocs” site. Public comment will probably be one of the first items on the agenda.

I want to hear about how these stories and reports have affected you and your family. Come to the meeting to support others in sharing their stories. If coming in person will not work for you, you can send an email to, or send a text or leave a voicemail at 413-362-1891. (Emails and texts will be displayed at the meeting; voicemails will be played. Emails, texts, and voicemails must be received by 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting.) You can watch the meeting live on Amherst Media .

I believe you, and I believe in you.

Why I’m super excited about the Amherst elementary school building project

On May 2, Amherst voters will decide on a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion for a new elementary school to be located at the Fort River site, which will replace both the Wildwood and Fort River elementary schools.

I am super excited for this school building project! The thing that excites me the most is that this will be Amherst’s first net-zero municipal building. With geothermal wells for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, as well as solar panels on the roof and parking lot canopies, this will be the first Amherst town building to NOT rely on fossil fuels! What a great model we are setting for our students – showing them that we invest in what we care about.

(Jennifer Shiao, Rudy Perkins, Bruce Coldham, and Cathy Schoen, canvassing for Vote Yes on April 23.)

Another thing that I’m excited about is that this building, and the fields and grounds around it, will be a community resource. From the cafetorium (combination cafeteria and auditorium) and gymnasium to the athletic fields (which are supported with Community Preservation Act funding), non-school organizations will benefit from the new school.

Lastly, the grade configuration of this new school keeps our kindergarten through 5th grade students in one building (Crocker Farm will also house K-5 students). Sixth graders will attend school at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

Voting yes on this project on May 2 means that our students and staff will have improved learning and working conditions, and will show how much this community values education.

Moving 6th graders to the middle school delayed to fall ’25 or fall ’26

At the February 16 meeting of the Amherst School Committee, the committee voted to delay moving 6th graders to the Amherst Regional Middle School building to fall of 2025 or fall of 2026.

Change to the original plan (to move 6th graders in fall ’23) was first proposed by Superintendent Mike Morris last month. At the Feb 16 meeting, Mike introduced the idea of delaying the move later than fall ’23, but possibly making the move sooner than fall ’26. He suggested that the School Committee might prefer to have some flexibility, given the ongoing space constraints at Fort River, which will not get any better in the coming years, and a new piece of information regarding the “regional agreement.”

The “regional agreement” is an agreement signed by the four towns in the Amherst Regional Public Schools district (Amherst, Leverett, Pelham, and Shutesbury). The agreement was signed decades ago and includes, among other things, the agreement that the Amherst Regional Middle and High Schools would educate students in grades 7 through 12. Because the regional agreement does not include 6th graders, the original plan was for the Amherst 6th grade students to attend a separate “6th grade academy” (essentially a school-within-a-school) housed in the middle school building, but not actually be enrolled in middle school.

In order for Amherst (or any) 6th graders to be enrolled in the Amherst Regional Middle School, the regional agreement would need to be modified. However, modifying a regional school district agreement is a lengthy and involved process that could take several years from start to finish. In recent meetings with DESE (the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), Mike learned that the department is open to the idea of adding an amendment to a regional agreement without the need to take on the lengthy process of modifying the agreement. This would allow for integration of the 6th graders into the middle school, instead of the school-within-a-school model, and could be accomplished in a shorter time frame.

After discussion and debate, the School Committee voted to delay moving 6th graders to the middle school to fall ’25 or fall ’26, and to make that decision no later than November 2024. This means that this year’s 4th and 5th graders will not attend 6th grade at the middle school. The first cohort to attend 6th grade at the middle school would be this year’s 2nd or 3rd graders, with that decision to be made by November 2024.

This motion passed 3-1 as follows:
Shiao: Yes
McDonald: Yes
Demling: Yes
Rhodes: No
Herrington: Absent

You can watch the video of this discussion, which starts around 52 minutes into the meeting here:

Moving 6th graders to the middle school may be delayed to 2026

At the January 10 meeting of the Amherst School Committee, Superintendent Michael Morris shared reasons for considering delaying moving 6th graders to the middle school until 2026. The current plan is for Amherst students to attend 6th grade in the Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) building beginning this fall (2023).

The three buckets of reasons Morris gave for considering this change now are:

  • Fewer students than expected. The number of K-6 students in Amherst is lower than was expected when the plan to move 6th graders to the middle school was first developed. As a result of this lower enrollment, we will have three fewer sections (classrooms) in the three elementary schools in the next academic year than the current year (one fewer in Crocker Farm, two fewer in Wildwood, no change in Fort River). Thus the issue with lack of space at our elementary schools will not be as dire as expected.
  • We are projected to have a budget deficit of around $800,000 for FY24 (fiscal year ending 6/30/24). While we anticipated a deficit, we did not expect it to be this high. 
  • The complexity of running, essentially, a fourth elementary school in Amherst. Because the Amherst Regional Middle School is a regional school that does not include 6th grade, the Amherst 6th graders would, in essence, attend a separate school located in the ARMS building. We recently received confirmation from DESE (the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) that we would need to operate a fourth elementary school, which comes with staffing and financial complexity.

The School Committee heard information on this topic at the January 10 meeting, but we did not discuss it in detail or deliberate on it, because it was not on our posted agenda for the meeting. The plan is for the superintendent to come back to the committee at our next meeting, which will be January 24, with more information including maps and budget implications.

To be clear, the district and the School Committee are still committed to moving 6th grade to the middle school; it is a question of WHEN not IF.

If you would like to share your input on this topic with the Amherst School Committee, you can email all committee members at

The School Committee failed to discuss the issue of PFAS in artificial turf

One of the responsibilities of a School Committee member is to support committee decisions. This is true even if you yourself did not vote with the majority. The School Committee operates as a single body, and individual members have the responsibility to support the decisions that the body makes.

But what if you did vote with the majority, and after the fact you learned new information that changes your perspective on the decision? That is the position I find myself in.

At the February 15, 2022 meeting of the Regional School Committee, we discussed a report from Weston & Sampson, an engineering and design firm, about the options for repairing or replacing the Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) track and field. The options included resurfacing of the running track (“Option 1”), re-orienting the running track to a north-south orientation and using natural grass for the interior playing field (“Option 2”), and the same as Option 2 but using synthetic turf (“Option 3”). We were informed that Option 3 is the most expensive, and also the preferred option of the district. 

Among the “Cons” of synthetic turf, the report stated “negative perception of environmental, human health risks, and injuries.” The report went on to note the following as “disadvantages” of synthetic turf:

  • Synthetic turf has been known to be more abrasive than natural turf, resulting in more turf burns to a player’s skin.
  • Synthetic turf has heat absorbing properties
  • Some people may view synthetic turf as a potential risk to players and the environment.

Unfortunately, no committee members raised concerns about these issues, and they were never discussed. In addition, the fact that the blades of grass in synthetic turf are manufactured with chemicals called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), man-made “forever” chemicals that do not occur naturally and do not break down, was not mentioned and therefore not discussed.

Just one week prior to this meeting, on February 8, 2022, the Nantucket School Committee held a 1.5 hour workshop on PFAS in turf fields, during which they brought in members of the scientific community to talk about the risks to human health and the environment of PFAS.

At the time, my one concern about artificial turf was whether it was a “green” or environmentally friendly option. At the February 15 meeting, I asked if we could be provided with information about how green each option is in terms of the construction costs, the manufacture of artificial turf, and the maintenance moving forward. Unfortunately, my question was never addressed at future meetings, and I never brought it up again, which I admit is a failure on my part to follow through on a concern.

One month later, on March 15, the School Committee voted 8-1 to approve borrowing $1.5 million for the ARHS track and field project . All of the debate around the vote was about funding the project, with zero discussion on the environmental or health and safety impacts of artificial turf. No one brought it up, so we never discussed it.

Looking back now, I regret not doing my own research about my questions. Had I done a simple Google search on “how green is artificial turf” I would have turned up a dozen articles about the risks of artificial turf, including a report from just one week prior that the Nantucket Public Schools had decided to put on hold the plans for its athletic complex, due to concerns about PFAS in artificial turf.

Indeed, since that March 15 decision, more stories have arisen about MA school districts grappling with the issue of PFAS in artificial turf (see also Martha’s Vineyard, Malden, Boston, and Franklin). Each of these cases is different, with unique variables and decision-making bodies. However, in each case the topic was discussed and debated in public before decisions were made (except maybe Boston where Mayor Michelle Wu directed that no new artificial turf fields be installed in the city of Boston).

My big regret here is that the Regional School Committee never discussed the issue. We didn’t consult experts with differing opinions nor hear from members of the public about their concerns about the environmental and health impacts of artificial turf, as they did in Nantucket.

I did not do my due diligence to learn more about the “cons” of artificial turf. At least one of my fellow members shares my regret about not having educated ourselves before making the decision, and at least one other member implied at the November 17 Regional School Committee meeting that she was knowledgeable on this issue before voting. Regardless, we never talked about it, and that is what I regret – that we did not discuss this matter as a group, so that together we could make an educated decision.

But now that I know more, I can’t in good conscience support a decision that was made without the benefit of a robust discussion on some very important issues regarding artificial turf. Ultimately, a School Committee member’s job is to do what is in the best interests of students and the school community; the responsibility to support committee decisions should not take precedence over this.

School Committee votes to restore art and technology educator positions to full time (Amherst School Committee, 6/28/22)

At our June 28 meeting, the Amherst School Committee voted unanimously to restore the art and technology educator positions at all three elementary schools to full time, through funding from the school’s budget. You can read about the background of this issue in my March 29 blog post (Amherst School Committee restores art and technology specials teachers for FY23 budget – but how?) and my April 27 blog post (A “rounding error” sized problem with no solution).

To recap: The School Committee came up with a compromise solution for the $79,200 needed to restore the six 0.8 FTE (full time equivalent) positions to 1.0 each – use ESSER funds (COVID relief funds for schools) for one-third of the amount, and request more money from the town of Amherst for two-thirds of the amount.

On June 13, the Amherst Town Council did not approve the additional funds to cover these positions. (You can watch this portion of the Town Council meeting here.

At the June 28 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Mike Morris said that he sees the value in restoring the positions to full time. He suggested using funds in “the back of the budget,” i.e. the Control Account, to cover the amount needed for these positions. The Control Account is a budget line item where funds are reserved for expenses that are unknown at the time the budget is developed. Morris indicated that there are always funds for “one teacher and two paras” in the Control Account, in case extra staffing is needed, beyond what was planned for. Earlier in the meeting, he had presented an update on kindergarten registration, which indicated that fewer kindergarten sections would be needed than originally anticipated, resulting in a cost savings.

Morris said “My thinking [on these positions] has evolved as more data has come to me.” He did indicate that pulling the needed funds from the Control Account is a risk, but that it’s a risk worth taking for this year. 

It is unknown if the positions will be able to be funded the following year (23-24 academic year) or future years. When the new elementary school building opens (expected fall 2026), the district expects to see operational savings, which would change our financial picture.

I am very happy and grateful that these six positions (one art teacher and one technology teacher, at each of our three elementary schools) will be restored to full time for this year. This is the right thing for our students, who need art and technology now more than ever, in addition to the strong relationships formed between full-time educators and students. And it’s the right thing for our staff, who deserve our respect and commitment to full-time jobs. This was a stressful and lengthy process, and I wish we could have gotten here sooner, but I’m glad we got here in the end!