Three school counselors in Amherst, Massachusetts, have been placed on administrative leave since mid-May after a student newspaper reported anonymous accusations of “misgendering” and “anti-LGBTQ prayer at school,” which triggered a Title IX investigation.
Adjustment counselor Hector Santos and guidance counselors Delinda Dykes and Tania Cabrera of Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School were first placed on leave after the Amherst-Pelham Regional High School’s student newspaper published an article alleging years of complaints about the Christians to school leadership. Santos and Dykes are now facing a Title IX investigation.
In the article, anonymous sources criticized the counselors for repeated “misgendering” and expressions of their “religious views at work.” “Misgendering” is a term used by LGBT activists to describe referring to a person by the pronouns that correspond to his or her natural sex, rather than a transgender persona. Many Christians and even non-Christians feel a moral responsibility to use pronouns that reflect truth and reality.
One anonymous source claimed that in a before-school prayer circle — which “did not involve students or teachers” — Dykes included a petition to “bind that LGBTQ gay demon that wants to confuse our children.” An unnamed family reportedly terminated counseling sessions for their child to avoid “religious comments.”
The counselors, who have “denied the allegations and said that an investigation would show they have not engaged in ‘any wrongdoings,’” did not offer The Federalist a direct comment on the situation, as their attorney explained they are “waiting for the Title IX investigation to be completed.”
“That is a difficult choice for someone to make when accusations are being hurled in their direction,” added the attorney, Ryan McLane, in a statement to The Federalist. “I can tell you, as their attorney, that the allegations are unfounded.”
In emailed statements to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dykes and Santos both wrote that they “strive to treat every student with dignity and respect, and … believe that [they] have been successful in doing so for over 20 years.”
“I cherish my relationships with students and staff, and so it saddens me that false allegations have been made against me,” both counselors added. “However, I will continue to serve this school community to the best of my ability.”
In April and early May, rumors circulated among parents that the counselors “intentionally misgendered students and led prayers focused on gender identity and sexual orientation.” The superintendent reportedly issued a statement explaining that an official complaint would need to be made to begin an investigation.
At a school committee meeting on April 25, before the student newspaper published the anonymous accusations, multiple individuals made public comments regarding the use of “conversion therapy,” claiming that any use of “religion, prayer, or other forms of coercion or guilt” in a counseling or other school setting was “certainly on the same continuum” as conversion therapy and implying it was illegal under Massachusetts law. By May 11, the three counselors had been put on leave.
“My clients did not engage in ‘conversion therapy’ or any other Title IX violation,” McLane stressed. “They are Christians, and they are entitled to a fair investigation. And while the law prohibits discrimination based on sex, it also prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs.”
“We’re all looking forward to this being over so that their names can be cleared and they can continue serving the children that they care for,” he continued.
The student newspaper article also blamed Assistant Superintendent of Diversity, Equity, and Human Resources Doreen Cunningham for ignoring parent complaints. Cunningham was placed on administrative leave a few weeks later, pending the Title IX investigation’s conclusion, after refusing to resign. Superintendent Michael Morris took medical leave after the Amherst teacher’s union issued a vote of no confidence on May 13.
A public records request for emails and memos detailing the reasons and timing of staff members’ suspensions was not yet fulfilled at publication time, and requests for comment to Cunningham, Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School Principal Diego Sharon, former school committee member Kathleen Anderson (who criticized the counselors during public comments to the board), and the school district’s Restorative Justice Coordinator Aaron Buford received no response. The school paper’s faculty adviser, Sara Barber-Just, declined to comment to The Federalist, saying she was overwhelmed by media requests.