Madison superintendent addresses racism, says district to launch new reporting system

The superintendent for the Madison school district addressed recent reports of racism in an open letter Thursday morning.

In the letter, Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jen Cheatham called the recent incident at Whitehorse Middle School “especially horrific” and said the incidents of teachers using racial slurs this school year “caused harm to Black students, their families, and our community” and are “indefensible.”

“DISRUPT RACISM IN ALL OF ITS FORMS”@SuptJenCheatham wrote, “We have to disrupt racism in all of its forms. We cannot be silent. We cannot perpetuate it. We must examine everything. In no way can we, as a community of educators, accommodate or make excuses” #news3now pic.twitter.com/r3wu29ckd8

— Tabatha (@TabathaWethal) February 28, 2019

A Whitehorse Middle School teacher was put on leave after a student claims he pushed her and tore out three of her braids on Feb. 13. The 11-year-old is black and the teacher is white.

Since November, three MMSD teachers were removed from classrooms after reportedly using racial slurs in front of students in separate incidents. A middle school teacher resigned after she was accused of yelling the N-word at a 12-year-old.

In the letter, Cheatham said the district had fallen short in the Whitehorse incident and promised to analyze what happened and learn from it.

“No matter what comes out of the police investigation, there was a failure on our part,” Cheatham said. “We will review every fact to understand what happened so that we can take aggressive action.”

Read Cheatham’s letter

Madison superintendent addresses racism, says district to launch new reporting system

“The polarization in our country today puts a tremendous amount of pressure on young people and the people who work in schools to somehow get it right, while the rest of society gets it wrong,” she wrote. “We have to disrupt racism in all of its forms. We cannot be silent. We cannot perpetuate it. We must examine everything.”

Cheatham announced several efforts underway in the district to address the issue. A new system for staff, students and families to report incidents of racism or discrimination will launch this spring.

“In no way can we, as a community of educators, accommodate or make excuses for actions that hurt the very students we have dedicated our lives to help,” Cheatham said.

The school also plans to refresh its improvement planning process “to ensure that race, rigor and relationships are central to school based decision making.” Staff will also be required to take a professional development series on “racial identity, implicit bias, and racial inequity in the United States,” she said.

To build trust and ensure “our collective actions support the students and families we serve,” Cheatham said the district plans to hold several community meetings in the next two months.

“I promise this community that we are going to work hard to get it right,” she wrote. “I know we will continue to be challenged. More issues will likely surface. And we will be relentless in our efforts. This is the work we signed up for.”

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