Frontier’s response to alleged sexual misconduct draws ire

Frontier Regional School parent and Deerfield Elementary School teacher Jennifer Smith, as well as several other parents and community members, urged the Frontier School Committee and the district to better communicate with students and families in the wake of an alleged incident of sexual misconduct on campus.

Frontier Regional School parent and Deerfield Elementary School teacher Jennifer Smith, as well as several other parents and community members, urged the Frontier School Committee and the district to better communicate with students and families in the wake of an alleged incident of sexual misconduct on campus. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-18-2024 7:22 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Several parents and community members criticized the Frontier Regional School District on April 9 for its lack of communication over alleged sexual misconduct on campus during school hours in March.

Speaking during public comment at the Frontier School Committee meeting, parents expressed concerns that because the district was not transparent about the alleged incident, it has created what one parent described as an “environment of secrecy, shame” and “distrust.”

“I understand the need for confidentiality and privacy with the issue, however, there also needs to be clear communication and guidance to the students and their families,” said parent Apryl Worden. “Without this, the grapevine, that we all know flows through the student body, will allow misinformation to flow freely.”

Darius Modestow, superintendent of the Frontier and Union 38 school districts, confirmed in an email to the Recorder on Wednesday that there “was a report of sexual misconduct at Frontier Regional School during school hours” and the “alleged misconduct did not involve any school employees,” but could not go into specifics because of privacy and confidentiality laws.

“The district investigates all claims and allegations of conduct violations, including Title IX allegations, thoroughly,” Modestow wrote. “The district takes all such allegations seriously and consistently implements safety supports as appropriate. If it is determined that outside law enforcement or support is necessary, they are included in the response. In this particular case, outside law enforcement was notified.”

The Deerfield Police Department said it could not confirm nor deny if an incident took place, or if there is an investigation, as Massachusetts’ laws require confidentiality for rape, sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Privacy laws around minors are even stricter.

Since the alleged incident occurred last month, parents said the school has not held an assembly to address it with the students, nor reached out to families through a letter as of April 9. Modestow sent a letter to the community early Wednesday evening addressing families’ concerns and laying out the school’s response, which he said was based, in part, on feedback they’ve received through emails and School Committee meetings.

In his letter, Modestow said administration “acted diligently in response” to the report.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

South County Senior Center opts not to renew church lease after rift over LGBTQ program
UMass chancellor defends protest crackdown, arrests
Don Michak: Dig deeper after scandalous court ruling in Soldiers' Home case
Large, loud parties in Amherst lead to arrests on last weekend before UMass graduation
Martha Jorz: Stop supporting UMass and Raytheon
UMass faculty, librarians vote no confidence in chancellor over protest breakup

“When the incident was reported, we responded immediately. All required reporting was completed, the authorities were engaged, and we offered immediate and ongoing support to the parties involved,” the letter reads. “More recently, we have extended counseling support to the entire student and employee population, and we have formed a plan for additional supportive and preventative measures in the future.”

The letter details the school’s safety and security measures and outlines plans for how to prevent similar incidents in the future and how the school can communicate more quickly and effectively if they do happen. It also details plans on how to improve the overall culture at Frontier.

Speaking at the School Committee meeting, Jennifer Smith, a parent of three kids in the district and a Deerfield Elementary School teacher, said there have been “many weeks of silence from the adult community and wider population.” Smith asked the School Committee and district administration what kind of message they are sharing with their children.

“When I asked my own children, my three Frontier children, if any adults at school talked about sexual assault, they said ‘no.’ … Has there been an assembly or an all-school meeting where a person in charge has stood up and said, ‘Not in our school?’ No,” Smith said. “One of my children has told me that they feel like you’re not supposed to talk about this if it happens to you. That is the message they are getting from their school.”

Deerfield resident Shawn Durrett, who is a member of the Deerfield Inclusion Group and a parent of a former Union 38 student, read a letter signed by 15 community members urging the district and School Committee to guide students through traumatic incidents and to hold discussions about school culture. When such incidents occur on a school campus, students need support, especially survivors, she said. Durrett also noted April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“We ask you to ensure that caring and trained adults are guiding students through the aftermath of any traumatic incident and working to create a more inclusive and safe school culture with zero tolerance for sexual aggression and harassment of victims and upstanders,” Durrett said.

Frontier School Committee Chair Missy Novak thanked those in attendance for sharing their thoughts and concerns with the committee and pledged to continue working with the district. Modestow emphasized they are listening to parents’ concerns.

“I really appreciate the strength you all have shown in bringing forth these concerns, both as parents and community members. I appreciate the modeling you are doing, not only for the kids, but for us as School Committee members and the administration,” Novak said. “I want to assure you, from the School Committee perspective, we are committed to making sure this school is a safe space for the kids and we will continue engaging in conversations with the administration and Darius.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.