MMSD works on change to address racial slur incidents

Published: Feb. 28, 2019 at 11:08 AM CST
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The superintendent of Madison schools addressed the racial slur incidents that have happened at schools this school year.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham of the Madison Metropolitan School District said in a letter emailed out to families that these incidents have caused harm to Black students, their families, and our community.

"I think everyone would agree this is not who we are as a community and as a school district," Cheatham said. "This is not who we want to be."

Cheatham said the district is working on ways to make meaningful change.

"As a district we've taken on a commitment to racial justice and a commitment to being anti-racist in everything that we do and we're learning how to do that," she said.

One of the critical actions that are currently underway include a new system for staff, students, and families to report incidents or racism or discrimination.

"It's sometimes confusing to know where to go to and who to talk to when you think you've seen something," said Cheatham. "We want to make sure that's much more clear."

In regards to the recent incident at Whitehorse Middle School, Cheatham says it demonstrates some kind of failure.

"Any time a child is hurt in one of our classrooms or a school on our watch, it's unacceptable," she said.

The staff members is on administrative leave right now and Cheatham says the district will do an internal review.

"That's not just about protecting the teacher," she explained. "It's about being through and protecting everyone's rights."

Other critical actions the district plans to undertake includes revision of current HR and Board policies; a refresh of the School Improvement Planning process; and a new required professional development series for all staff on racial identity, implicit bias, and racial inequity.

to read the letter.

Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson has also released a statement in response to the letter. He outlines four recommendations for MMSD to implement.

Below is the full statement from Johnson:

"I applaud Jen Cheatham for writing an open letter to our community and for recognizing challenges within MMSD and for owning the recent problems that have occurred over time. I agree with her assessment that our country is at polarizing moment and that our collective responses to local issues places pressure on young people, their parents and those that work in our schools.

I support some of her action items but encourage MMSD to consider the following:

· Reporting incidents of Racism: MMSD should create a Parent Ombudsman Office independent of MMSD with a 24 hour hotline with trained parent ambassadors who will serve as a support system for parents and students impacted by these incidents.

· Revision of HR policy and practice through a racial equity lens: MMSD should include groups like the Urban League, Freedom Inc, Progress Center for Black Women, YWCA, Focused Interruption Coalition and other local grassroots organizations including the parents involved in some of the recent incidents and allow them to come up with suggestions and resolutions.

· Refresh School Improvement Planning Process: MMSD should have a local school council that represents the student body and the community at large. MMSD should empower the local school council to determine if EROS are needed and they should be empowered to approve the local school budget and take part of the principal’s annual evaluation around school climate.

· Training for Teachers on Implicit Bias: Based on feedback we heard from teachers more training is needed and implicit bias training should be a requirement for teachers, community partners and principals to minimize these issues. MMSD should work with the same grassroots groups to come up with the training plan on implicit bias.

In closing, I appreciate the tone of the open letter but would like to see that the next budget cycle, reflect the aforementioned priorities and that the School Board and the Superintendent’s cabinet members are aligned around a systemic plan that addresses the priorities of the open letter."

Madison Teachers INC. releases statement:

"MTI membership stands with our students, families, and community in supporting the work on anti-racism within our school district and the entire Madison community. We know that we all must unite and change the reality that exists and work to fulfil the promise of public education for all of our students. A promise that as stated in MTI’s Belief Statements is a “moral responsibility to provide a broad education to all students with no exceptions, exclusions, or disparities.” An education that occurs in a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment that supports the entirety of the school community.

We recognize the traumatic nature of recent events and also the institutional racism and historical barriers that are a part of the reality that those who learn and work in our schools experience. Barriers that all of us are committed to breaking down.

While this is the work of everyone in Madison, MTI has a pivotal role to play in making positive change happen. To this end, we are working as an organization to support our members as they engage in their daily work with students and families. We have written mission and belief statements that call out our goals of being member led, advocating for our members our students and our community, and advancing quality public education for all.

We have formed a Diversity and Equity Committee specifically charged with moving this work forward. These efforts have included MTI led equity sessions, which over 250 educators attended on their own time. MTI members, through their Union, took the lead in organizing the Black Lives Matter Week of Action which took place in early February. Well over 1000 staff members and administrators participated in this week. Participation included professional learning, curriculum development, attending events, visibly supporting the week through t-shirts and displays in schools and more. It is important to realize that these have all been initial steps and we recognize that more needs to be, and will be, done.

At the most recent Faculty Representative Council elected MTI member leaders discussed additional steps that our Union can take. The MTI Board of Directors and the Diversity and Equity Committee have been directed to take these ideas and identify ways to move them into action.

These efforts go beyond words and focused events. The most critical work happens every day across our district as staff, students and families work together and build relationships. MTI is committed to raising the voices of educators, our students, families and community members. We are also committed to listening, and we acknowledge that there is much that we need to hear.

There is no single solution to the challenges we face. Instead, there is a need for us to join around the common vision that we all share. That vision is a public school system that lifts up every individual and unites us in making our community stronger through education and Solidarity."