Madison School District acknowledges ‘failure’ in Whitehorse Middle School incident

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MADISON (WKOW) — The Madison Metropolitan School District publicly stated its own failing in an incident between a Whitehorse Middle School staff member and a student.

In an open letter to the community, Madison Metropolitan School District President Jennifer Cheatham said, “No matter what comes out of the police investigation, there was a failure on our part.”

“As educators, our job is to protect, uplift and enrich the lives of children,”  Cheatham said in a Thursday interview with 27 News.  “And if a child gets hurt on our watch, I think it’s inherently a failure”.

The situation prompted a Feb. 23 community meeting at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County where attendees talked about how to protect children in the district.

“I applaud her for recognizing there are challenges at MMSD (Madison Metropolitan School District),” says Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson.  “Sometimes leaders like her would hide from the issue or not recognize it.”

“We will review every fact to understand what happened so that we can take aggressive action,” Cheatham said, calling the incident “especially horrific.”

The staff member involved in the alleged confrontation was put on administrative leave and will not return to Whitehorse Middle School, according to district officials. The student’s mother tells 27 News her daughter was pushed to the ground and several of her braids were torn during the incident with the staff member. Madison Police are investigating the encounter.

“Something went woefully wrong,”  Cheatham tells 27 News.

In 2015, the staff member traveled with Cheatham to the White House for a schools conference.

“It’s incredibly disappointing,”  Cheatham says of the employee’s involvement in the middle school incident, while reinforcing inquires into what happened are not complete.

Cheatham outlined several steps the district would take to affect “meaningful change,” including a new reporting system for incidents of racism and discrimination, a review of critical response protocols and implementing a new professional development series on race and bias required for all staff.

“I promise this community that we are going to work hard to get it right,” Cheatham said.

“I would take it another step forward and create a 24-hour hotline, an ombudsman hotline that is staffed by community leaders,”  Johnson says of the reporting system.  Cheatham tells 27 News she’s open to the hotline concept.

Cheatham’s letter also acknowledged the use of several racial slurs by Madison educators. “The series of racial slur incidents that have occurred this school year and caused harm to Black students, their families, and our community are indefensible.”

Cheatham notes to 27 News all educators involved with the racial slur incidents separated from the district.

“I know we will continue to be challenged,” Cheatham said. “More issues will likely surface.”

Johnson says more recommendations as result of the community meeting discussion will be forwarded to Cheatham.

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