Letter to MMSD about the N-Word
November 4, 2019
TO: MMSD School Board and President Gloria Reyes
   MMSD Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore

We write this letter to express our concern at the lack of support offered to four African American staff at Frank Allis Elementary School that have been victimized by
the repeated use of the N-word by a white student. Concerns expressed from these teachers and staff were allegedly reported to the Principal Sara Cutler at Frank
Allis Elementary School with no substantive action or reparations to these employees. It has been brought to our attention that two of the four have even left the
school and/or the District. As an African American woman who has served as both a city of Madison and state of Wisconsin public official, and has dedicated her
life to serving this community, along with the Rev. Dr. Alex Gee, a prominent African American leader in Madison who has also dedicated his life and service to the
Madison community for over three decades, we are astounded to hear how hurtful and unresponsive the District has been in addressing such derogatory language
towards staff. Rarely, if ever, have either of us been called the N-word, and certainly not to our faces. Sadly, the majority of African Americans who worked at Frank
Allis Elementary School in 2018-2019, are not be able to say the same.

There appears to be inconsistencies in the District’s policies, procedures and practices as it relates to their “zero-tolerance policy” when it’s directed at African
American staff and student(s) at Frank Allis Elementary School. According to information we were able to obtain, last school year (2018-2019), a young white male
student at Frank Allis Elementary School called four out of the five African American staff, the “N-word.” One teacher, after being called the word twice in front of a
full class of students, felt such a lack of support from the principal, had to reach out to the Teachers Union for action, ultimately resulting in that student being
removed from his class. At this time, we are not aware of corrective action taken or required on the student or parent’s part. Based on the timeline, we were able to
determine that this student called yet a second African American teacher the N-word. Reportedly, the principal of Allis and District was notified, though no action on
behalf of the victimized teachers and staff was addressed. Subsequent to learning the aforementioned, it was said by a third African American staff person at Frank
Allis that not only had she been subjected to being called the N-word by this same white student, but the student actually spit in her face! The staff person continued
their account, reporting that this student physically attempted to stab her with a fork from behind while other children fearfully observed. Fortunately, she was able to
grab the fork in time, preventing the attack. Based on our inquiries, the District was aware of this student’s horrific and troubling behavior towards African American
staff and did little to nothing, once again, to protect these staff members. Which, we conclude, is likely why when the fourth African American staff member, when
asked to discuss the incident, stated “I’m not feeling confident that it will change anything.”

We would like to inquire if any additional incidents involving the use of derogatory language and/or violence has been directed at any remaining African American
staff or students, as well as, what the District has done to support the African American staff of Allis, both then and currently.  More so, we are concerned at the
number of calls and concerns expressed by Black families involved with Frank Allis. We would also like to inquire whether families of the children exposed to this
heinous word were notified and what support was offered. It is truly sad and demeaning that children at Frank Allis have been exposed to the N-word directed to
their teachers and staff of color. Such traumatic verbal assaults have likely impacted these children, resulting in an adverse effect of their self-image to impacting
their academic performance! If this student was able to remain in class, what has this taught these children? Were families notified and offered tools to help these
students?

The blatant disregard for African American teachers and staff is both heartbreaking and disingenuous, yet revealing. Based on our accounts, the District has not
apologized or enforced any remedies that have effectively resolved this matter for the employees. The acts of the administration and the principal must be
investigated by an outside entity, for clearly they are in need of assistance and awareness. Based on numerous accounts by other staff and families communicated
to us, as well as the media, the MMSD has certainly contributed to the racism that exists here in Madison and the reasoning as to why Madison now has become a
public health crisis for African Americans. Lastly, we learned that one of the administrators who also failed to help rectify this situation at Allis was recently
promoted to a principal position at another school. Again, so typical of MMSD to reward an employee abdicating their responsibility when it comes to issues of race.
Meanwhile, two of the four African American staff called the N-word, have left Frank Allis, and now we understand why!

The District’s “Behavior Education Plan” states “We believe ...in a striving school environment where staff and students are physically and emotionally safe.” The
Plan goes on to say, “We will… utilize innovative strategies and supports to create a positive school community where students, staff and families feel safe.”  
Based on our interviews, these staff members did not feel the support of this District. The African American community has clearly understood that our children have
experienced — and continue to experience — a different level of support from the District. Unfortunately, this also appears to be a pattern with African American staff
as well. Perhaps, this is why the District has a real challenge recruiting and maintaining a diverse workforce. We refuse to remain silent on this matter. We demand
new leadership who understands the danger of these issues and will work to create an even and safe playing field that is truly inclusive of African Americans and
takes real action on such racist language used towards African American staff. The District must focus on cleaning up “home” rather than lamenting the difficulty of
attracting and retaining more African American teachers. As such, we are recommending the following:

An investigation be undertaken of Principal Sara Cutler as to what actions were taken in each of the instances concerning these four staff members in 2018-2019,
concerning the use of the N-word; An investigation of why this student remains at Frank Allis Elementary School and if there have been repeated incidents of the use
of the N-word as well as violence against African American staff and students;A survey conducted of all African American teachers/staff as to: their working
climate; if they have been called the N-word by a student or teacher; if the act was reported, and what action(s) did the school and District take. Including, an
assurance that no retaliation by the District will result due to their participation in the survey;

A review of the policies, procedures and practices of MMSD as it relates to “zero tolerance” and hateful speech primarily when the target is African Americans;A
report as to what course of action the District took in response to this student’s repeated violation of the District’s Behavior Education Plan.

Sincerely,
Kirbie Mack, Founder and President of   Past Pres. NAACP/ Madison Branch    
Dr. Alex Gee, Former COM and SOW Public Official, Nehemiah Board of Directors

Dear Ms. Mack and Dr. Gee:Thank you for your letter to our Board of Education. Both
Superintendent Jane Belmore and our Board of Education take these issues very seriously
and are appreciative of your reach out.As recommended we will investigate the concerns you
have raised in your email. Our team has already begun a review of our practices around the
use of hateful speech and how we work through those situations, both with our staff and with
our students.  The information you sent to us involves MMSD employees and MMSD students.  
While we are committed and will conduct the necessary reviews we will not be able to share
the full results for the following reasons: First, we do not release information on personnel
matters involving our employees as such information is considered confidential. Secondly,
we do not release student information as it relates to discipline or school placement. Doing so
would be a violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

We have much work to do in MMSD and our Board is committed to our work around race and
equity.  We know our Board is working hard to ensure that our next superintendent will
continue the work that has been started.  We appreciate and value the partnerships with our
community partners, all of who want outcomes to improve for all MMSD children as well as to
ensure our schools are welcoming to all staff, especially our staff of color.  

Respectfully,

Mike
Michael Hertting, Ph.D.
Interim Assistant Superintendent for Staff & Operations
Interim Chief of Staff
Madison Metropolitan School District
The Madison Metropolitan School District
Responds