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Community Leaders Urge Investigation of, Response to Racial Slurs at Frank Allis Elementary


Community leaders have called on the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) to investigate and respond to a series of incidents at Frank Allis Elementary School — and investigation the district says it will conduct but has not yet begun.

On November 4, community activist Kirbie Mack and Dr. Alex Gee, pastor at Fountain of Life Church and CEO of Nehemiah Center, wrote to MMSD Board of Education members alleging that during the 2018-2019 school year, a student had used racial slurs against a number of Black teachers, and that those teachers did not feel supported by administration.

“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,” Mack and Gee wrote. “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, he 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.”

The teacher referenced confirmed the events but declined to speak on the record.

Mack and Gee wrote that Frank Allis Elementary Principal Sara Cutler had been made aware of the incidents but not taken appropriate action. They further wrote that two of the four Black teachers at Allis had either left the school or the district. 

One of the teachers involved confirmed this but was not sure if the racial slur incidents led directly to those departures.

In the letter dated November 4, Mack and Gee inquired whether “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.” 

They further requested that 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.”

In a response dated November 8, MMSD Interim Assistant Superintendent for Staff & Operations Michael Hertting pledged to look into the allegations.

“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,” he wrote.

He cautioned that he wouldn’t be able to share specific details as the questions involve personnel issues and students.

In a response dated November 13, Mack and Gee said a review of practices wasn’t good enough.

We ask that attention also be given to the District’s policies and procedures governing this area; and if necessary they be created and/or modified,” they wrote. “While we understand matters of this nature are confidential and you are ‘not able to share the full results,’ we do expect that these individuals will be informed of their rights before the investigation ensues (with regard to) retaliation; and will receive an apology from the District, at its conclusion.  In addition, we ask that cultural sensitivity training be required throughout the District.”

Hertting acknowledged receipt of the second email, but as of Monday, November 25, the teachers involved had not yet been contacted, Mack and Gee wrote.

Can you tell me when you will investigate to verify that the teachers were actually called the N-word, as reported to you and the District on November 4, 2019?” they wrote. “I understand that you have not, as of yet, reached out to the teaches which were affected. As of today, can you assure us that the white student has not repeated these actions, of calling African Americans at Frank Allis Elementary School, meaning: teachers, staff and students the N-word?  If not, when and what actions have you or the Board taken to speak with the staff or students in MMSD who have been subjected to being called the N-word while on school grounds?”

Hertting has not yet responded to that message; this story will be updated if and when he does. 

The district was plagued with a series of incidents of racial slurs used by teachers during the 2018-2019 school year. Former superintendent Jennifer Cheatham resigned in the spring to take a teaching job at Harvard.