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Amherst Regional High Unveils Plans to Help Keep Racism Out of the School

amherstAMHERST, Mass (WGGB) — After a year of racial attacks and other problems, there’s a new plan tonight to turn around a school that has been plagued by some troubling issues.

About a half dozen racist notes or graffiti, some making threats of violence, led to a series of school lockdowns and searches at Amherst Regional High School this past year. Those incidents created dramatic moments and grabbed headlines. Now, a task force is continuing to figure out what was behind the racism and what can be done to make sure they don’t happen going forward.

“I have a 9th grader coming into this building, my granddaughter, I’m concerned,” one woman said at Wednesday’s meeting.

That’s exactly why the Amherst Equity Task Force continues to probe what caused the series of racist remarks.

“It did damage and our goal right now is to bring some restoration,” Principal Mark Jackson said.

Chairman Dr. Amilcar Shabazz says three working groups are addressing school climate and culture, discipline, along with excellence and equity.

“This is a moment to try and push the reset the button and see if we can’t put in place or double check our practices that we are really moving this district forward,” Shabazz said.

The majority of racial notes and graffiti targeted African-American Math teacher Carolyn Gardner. Principal Mark Jackson said Wednesday that before Gardner took a leave of absence in May, she was given a personal security guard. Procedures like like bathroom logs and classroom signouts are still in place to prevent further incidents. Jackson hopes Gardner will return in the fall.

“What my hope is that we can through conversation find a way as a community to help her have some sense of restoration, of being restored, feeling whole and that directly ties to feeling safe,” Jackson said.

Students submitted 15 pages of feedback last week on ways to improve their school next year. It will be analyzed this summer, while the task force makes long term recommendations to the school committee.

“When the curtain comes up in September kids are going to be in a position to say we have a shot of not just replicating last year but actually having the chance to be a better place than we have been historically,” Jackson said.

The last day of school in Amherst is set for June 26th. The discussions with Gardner and other staff about how to proceed into next year are expected to go into the summer.

The investigation into who wrote the notes and graffiti is continuing. Gardner has previously denied interview requests since the last incident in May.

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