East High School staff call for change following sexual assault incident

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - More than 70 members of the East High School staff signed a letter calling the Madison Metropolitan School District to address comments made by the school’s head of security Friday.

Coordinator of School Safety and Security, Joe Balles, commented on the alleged sexual assault of a student in a bathroom in East High School earlier this week. Last Wednesday police arrested two teens accused in the sexual assault.

Following an alleged rape, Balles told a local Madison TV station that, "kids will be kids." Balles went on to ask people be patient, and know the schools are very safe but there are incidents that are going to happen from time to time.

According to staff members' letter Friday, Balles’ comments to the media “not only minimized the impact of this incident on the victim but also for all of those who work and go to school at East.”

The letter adds, “His comments reinforce societal ideas that promote the acceptance and perpetuation of sexual assault. “

Balles released a statement earlier this week in response to his interview with the TV station:

"I made an extremely poor word choice in my interview yesterday that does not represent my view or the district's view. I was speaking about students being present in our buildings in general after school and how we ensure our buildings are secure at that time. Still, I should have not made those comments in a story on this topic.”

The 73 staff who signed the letter Friday said they are also appalled by what they call a lack of response from Madison school superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. The letter says Cheatham “has yet to address the district’s plan for repairing the harm done to our school community.”

Staff who signed the letter said they want to see “decisive action” in the district. Staff said they want:

- Disciplinary measures implemented for Balles
- Mandatory training for security personnel on sexual assault, teen dating violence, consent and rape culture.
- Mandatory professional development for all staff members on sexual assault, teen dating violence, consent and rape culture.
- A new safety and security plan to actively address the issues with culture and climate at East that allowed this incident to occur.

In the letter staff said they are committed to ending "the prevalence of gender based violence in our schools."

"We need the support of the district, the school board, and the Madison community to ensure our schools are safe spaces for all students and staff," according to the letter.