Students at Madison West walk out after immunocompromised Spanish teacher removed from classroom

MADISON, Wis. – Students from Madison West staged a walk out Wednesday morning to protest the district’s handling of their teacher’s employment.

MMSD removed their teacher, Deana Zorko from her classes effective last Friday, after the veteran educator chose to work remotely during the 2021-2022 school year. MMSD officials say Zorko will be moved to the district’s all-virtual academy.

According to her attorney, Zorko is an organ transplant recipient and is currently taking drugs to prevent her body from rejecting the new organs, making her severely immunocompromised.

“It would be very dangerous, and possibly deadly, for her to teach in person,” said Attorney Tamara Packard in a written statement. “Last spring, her principal arranged for her to teach remotely when others returned to the buildings. This summer, we formally sought disability accommodation for Ms. Zorko to work remotely again. West High’s principal initially made the same arrangements, allowing her to teach her students in the classroom via video from her home, while we waited for District Administration to respond to the request. Unfortunately, District Administration would not approve continuing those arrangements, and the principal could not continue them on her own, though it is our understanding that she very much wanted to.”

In 2015, Zorko was named Wisconsin World Language Teacher of the Year. Her students say they’re crushed to learn she will no longer be teaching them and have since created a petition to bring her back.

There was no student input in this decision,” said Miranda Garcia-Dove, a Madison West Junior in Zorko’s advanced placement course. “The district didn’t ask us how we would feel, what would be best for us, or what would be a good way to work around the situation. We feel like our education is suffering.”

Garcia-Dove says while students made the return to the classroom this fall, Zorko had been working remotely, teaching students in the classroom virtually while another teacher assisted. Since her removal, Garcia-Dove says students have been presented with an online learning program as a replacement. 

This woman is a literal unicorn at MMSD,” said student Kyla Sifuentes-Rogea. “I don’t understand why the district (would do this). I get it, the district would want students and teachers to go back to normal, but it’s not normal. Normal doesn’t exist anymore.”

MMSD officials paint the situation in a different light, saying Zorko had applied for the online position last year and was accepted. 

“The district has been working with Ms. Zorko,”  wrote district spokesperson Tim LeMonds. “The first step in our support was requesting an ADA Reasonable Accommodation Form be completed and returned from her physician, of which we never received.” 

Zorko’s attorney says she had worked to continue teaching at Madison West, but says the district revoked that option.

That seems like a reasonable request on her part,” said Madison Teachers Inc. President Mike Jones.  “It’s not outlandish to say ‘Hey, I still want to teach my kids and I don’t want to die. It’s not like she has a political bent against the vaccine. This is something with her body, where doctors have told her this is the best way you can be safe and teach.”