Madison, Wis. — For the second time in less than two months since their former principal was fired, teachers from Sennett Middle School urged members of the Madison school board to have him reinstated.
Dr. Jeffrey Copeland was terminated by the district in late September after he accidentally left a voicemail for a job applicant, who had a degree from the Dominican Republic, with some controversial comments about the applicant. In the recording, Copeland questioned the district’s hiring process and the prospective employee’s ability to communicate with students.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, several Sennett teachers took to the podium to share their disapproval of Copeland’s firing and speak about the positive impact he had at the school during his very short stint as principal.
Among the group was a Language Arts teacher in Sennett’s Dual Language Immersion program, Rigoberto Gallegos, who said he admired Copeland and hoped to sway board members in his favor.
“I listened to the recordings and all I heard from what Dr. Copeland said was he was not happy with how this would work for our students,” Gallegos said. “His concern was about communication, not about race, ethnicity or national origin.”
Neither the school board nor the district has publicly commented on Copeland’s firing, but in the former principal’s termination letter, Associate Superintendent Dr. Angie Hicks called his remarks “extremely harmful” and goes against the district’s “vision of creating an anti-racist school culture.”
Sennett math teacher Mika Oreido said he, like many, is not denying the way Copeland expressed himself was in bad taste, but believes other disciplinary action in line with the district’s commitment to restorative justice would be more appropriate.
“This is the extreme,” he said. “This is a man’s livelihood and job being lost, and I do not believe in my opinion that was what was necessary,” he said.
Oreido, whose wife also teaches at Sennett and whose two children attend the school, also said after more than 20 years at the middle school, Copeland’s leadership stands out. Oreido and others credit Copeland for shifting the culture at Sennett and putting an end to the behavioral issues the school experienced last year.
So far, Copeland’s attempts to get his job back by appealing directly to the district have been unsuccessful, but the matter could be decided by the school board.
Sennett staff said Copeland has plans to privately meet with them at the end of November, likely heading into the MMSD employee handbook’s final stage in the grievance process for dismissal.
Sennett staff first addressed the school board to show their support for Copeland at the board’s meeting on September 28th, which was two days after he was fired.