Community activists put pressure on MMSD school board, want ambassadors for students

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Following an alleged assault on a 11-year-old girl, the community is upset with the Madison Metropolitan School District's response to the incident, and they let their voices be heard Monday. At the MMSD School Board meeting, more than 40 people signed up to talk about a range of topics, but most came to discuss the racial inequality they feel the Madison School District perpetuates.

"I am talking right to you, Cheatham," parent, Mattie Reese said to MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. "I need you to think about what you are doing here!"

Emotions ran high as community activists, parents, and students spoke passionately about racial disparities in the schools, and concerns about the safety of African-American students. There have been multiple stories from the district in the past few months that have concerned parents about the way teachers and staff treat children of color. The most recent story that was mentioned at the meeting during public comment was the incident involving a teacher allegedly pushing an 11-year-old African American student down and pulling out three of her braids at Whitehorse Middle School.

The teacher is on leave as the school and police investigate, and will not be teaching at the school any longer. However, community members believe the district is being to light on the teacher by not firing them.

"You continue to create these committees with the same voices, and the same faces, denying the people in the back," community activist, Brandi Grayson said.

Community leaders decided to hold a meeting at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County after the recent Whitehorse incident. Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO, Michael Johnson, believes more than 150 people were there including students, teachers, and parents. The meeting was closed to the media for privacy, but Johnson said it was helpful to hear how parents currently feel about their students. He said he noticed themes and trends that he has seen before in his 10 years working in Dane County.

"Some parents would tell you that they don't feel heard. There are some parents that will tell you that when there is IEP meetings, they feel like they don't have enough support to advocate for their children," Johnson explained.

He believes parents need more allies in the district that can help them when they are in a crisis or dealing with a difficult situation with their student. Johnson said a lot of parents have come to him for help with their students and they don't understand their rights within the schools or legally.

Something he thinks that could be a stepping stone to improving the current problems: student/parent ambassadors within the school.

"It is always good to have someone who can champion the needs of the student or the child and always look out for his or her best interest. I am not saying the District don't. but I just think in cases like that we need to make sure we are being fair to the teacher but also the student."

Johnson went on to explain that his previous jobs in Chicago and Philadelphia had a similar positions in their school districts and the ambassadors helped mediate issues between the district and the parents.

When asked if this would be a temporary fix, Johnson said it's a step in the right direction.

At the end of the day, Johnson believes there is never too much help that can be provided to children.