Sun Prairie Area School District responds to claim that partnership with YWCA was false

SPASD says all parties involved may have been partially correct
Sun Prairie school

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. — The Sun Prairie Area School District is responding to the claims that its partnership with the YWCA is false.

At its Monday school board meeting, SPASD staff said it was partnering with the YWCA in Madison to form restorative justice circles for its students following the backlash it received for a racially insensitive assignment given to three 6th grade classes last week asking students how they would punish a slave. YWCA CEO Vanessa McDowell told News 3 Now that there is no such partnership that exists.

In the press release, an SPASD spokesperson writes, “The Sun Prairie Area School District would like to start by acknowledging that public criticism comes from a place of advocacy for change, a perspective that we embrace and share. While we would like to state the facts, we would also like to make room for the idea that all partners involved in this situation may have a position of being partially correct. For all of us, this dialogue represents a distraction from our shared goal for racial equity.”

The release goes through a series of texts and email conversations between Dr. Sara Chaja-Clardy, Director of Secondary Teaching, Learning & Equity for SPASD, YWCA’s Restorative Justice Program Manager Bill Baldon, and YWCA CEO Vanessa McDowell.

The release states, “On Friday, February 5, 2021, at 4:33 p.m., Dr. Sarah Chaja-Clardy, Director of Secondary Teaching, Learning & Equity for SPASD, reached out to her contact at the YWCA, Bill Baldon, who is the Restorative Justice Program Manager for the YWCA, to inquire about partnering for the preparation of restorative justice circles. Bill Baldon responded that we would be interested, and would contact her over the weekend.”


1st Text

The release states that the next day, Chaja-Clardy and Baldon spoke on the phone about a collaboration and that Baldon suggested developing a partnership “more formally where we could work toward having SPASD teachers go through YWCA training this summer.”

The release stated, “Sarah texts Bill to share that Vanessa had sent a letter to our Superintendent and BOE and inquired if he had yet shared that he and Sarah had connected about leading restorative work and to let him know he was going to be copied in the response to her so he is aware. He responds that he knew about it but hadn’t seen the letter yet.”

McDowell sent a letter to the district expressing her outrage over the assignment given to students. In a response email that Chaja-Clardy sent to McDowell, she wrote, “I also acknowledge we need to immediately work on unpacking the effects of this incident and addressing the community’s call for improvement. Drawing on my relationships and experience in how we might best create safe spaces to process the incident and its impact on our students, staff, families, and community, I reached out to Bill Baldon for collaboration and support, as you may know, because of our deep work together over the past several years. Bill and I have since been working to design restorative circle conversations for staff and students most directly impacted first, and I am planning other opportunities for us to deepen conversations with the broader community through similar experiences soon after. The goal is to listen to the harm and impact each person has experienced, and come away with agreements for what needs to be established, developed, changed, and/or reinforced to ensure this incident does not repeat itself in any other spaces in our school system. I’m including Bill here as well so we are all on the same page about our restorative work and intents. I also hope we can look toward future opportunities to strengthen our partnership, as we believe systemic racism cannot be addressed randomly.”

The release included McDowell’s response to that email. McDowell wrote, “There is definitely some deep, extensive work that needs to
happen. My fear is that the district will fall into a checking of the box scenario of holding a couple of circles and not do the deep work that is required to transform a system. Thank you for disclosing that you have reached out to Bill. I will be connecting with Bill to make sure that we are all on the same page. Thanks for reaching out.”

McDowell told News 3 Now in an interview that neither her nor Baldon’s conversations was a creation of a formal or informal partnership with SPASD.