‘Poorly-worded message:’ MMSD officials address email sent to parents with separate meetings for white parents, parents of color

MMSD Separate Zoom meeting links

MADISON, Wis. — Officials with the Madison Metropolitan School District say they are aware of an email sent to parents of students at West High School that has gained attention on social media in the last week and led to accusations of segregation.

The email, which was sent in the wake of the Derek Chauvin trial verdict and the shooting death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio last week, included links to Zoom meetings for families to discuss how the issues were affecting them.

“Only after we establish these strong connections can we expect students and families to openly share and dialog around such complex issues,” the email said. “We want to work together to help our students and families feel safe, discuss challenging issues productively, and think about how they can make positive changes in the community.”

The email then included two separate Zoom meeting links — one for parents of color, and one for white parents.

Having two separate meetings led some to question whether the district was segregating people based on race. In response to questions from News 3 Now, district public information officer Tim LeMonds says that was not the intention of the email.

“The message you are referring to was, unfortunately, a poorly worded message sent by West staff to only West families who identify as families of color, multiracial or blended, to promote the school’s effort to provide them a virtual discussion space and support, utilizing the Affinity Group model,” LeMonds said. “Although their intent was to provide families an opportunity to process their emotions and feelings related to current events, the language used to organize the discussion was less than sensitive.”

LeMonds says the Affinity Group model is a method the district has used to provide an opportunity for people who share common identities or experiences to connect, “especially in a situation where they feel their identity is marginalized,” LeMonds said.

In a letter to West High School parents Monday, principal Karen Boran said the separate affinity groups were “specifically requested” by students, families and staff of color after previous discussions “where they expressed frustration having to justify their experiences and perspectives.”

“While we apologize for any confusion our messaging caused, West will continue to center this necessary anti-racist work around the voices and needs of our students, families and staff members of color,” Boran wrote to parents.

Conservative law group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sent a letter to district superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins on Monday, threatening to sue over the practice, comparing it to the segrationism of the 1950s.