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Madison school culture needs work after new slur allegations, community leaders say

MADISON (WKOW) — Community leaders reacted Friday to the news of yet another alleged racial incident at a Madison school, just months after the district laid out a plan for change.

“We’ve got to stop having this continue to happen,” said Dr. Ruben Anthony, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison.

On Wednesday, a letter went out to parents at Spring Harbor Middle School saying there was an incident of a staff member “allegedly using a racial slur in front of several students.”

“I don’t know what was said, but it sounds like something awful was said,” Dr. Anthony said.

According to the letter, that staff member was removed from class and an investigation began.

“Teachers are really trying hard this year to get it right,” Dr. Anthony said. “And when one teacher steps out and does something like this, I think it is a mark on all the teachers.”

This incident is the latest in a series that came to a controversial head in February over an altercation between a student and staff member at Whitehorse Middle School. Following that, Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham wrote a letter to the community admitting failures and promising change.

“One thing that Jen has always said is that we have a lot of work to do,” Dr. Anthony said. “I really appreciate her honesty and candor about that.”

While Dr. Anthony has confidence in the school board to handle this recent incident, he says there’s a lot more work to be done.

“When these things continue to happen, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do,” he said.

The answer, to him, is to continue conversations between the school system and the community so that it’s absolutely clear what is and is not okay.

“Teachers have to understand the different culture of kids that come into the classroom,” Dr. Anthony said. “And I think that teachers have to develop a toolkit that allows them to deal with different cultures, different situations.”

The Madison Metropolitan School District said Superintendent Cheatham was out of town Thursday and Friday, and claimed no other administrator was available to talk about the most recent incident nor the progress of the plan laid out in the February 28 letter to the community.

Thursday, Madison Teachers, Inc. released a statement saying in part,

“We call upon everyone to examine and act in their role to protect and support our children, families and educators, now and in the future, and to work toward building the mutual understanding, culture and climate out school community deserves.”

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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