A group of Hamilton Middle School students took a break from setting up the gym for a dance Thursday evening and were outside “play fighting” when an adult approached in a car, recorded or pretended to record them on a phone, and ultimately called police, according to an email sent to Hamilton families Friday by Principal Jessica Taylor and Assistant Principal Nichole Berg.
“Before the dance began, a small group of students were play fighting outside with friends,” the email says. “They were not actually fighting or causing harm to themselves or others. An adult approached the students in their vehicle and held up a phone, pretending to record the students. This caused fear for the students, who reacted. Staff addressed the situation, worked with students and talked with the adult in an effort to de-escalate the situation and understand what had happened. In the midst of the staff’s attempts at de-escalation, the adult called police. This action further exacerbated the situation. Police arrived at school, took reports from the adult and students, and spoke with staff, and are not pursuing further action.”
Four officers responded to the call and spent at least 90 minutes at the school, according to witnesses. A Madison police spokesman said that no one on duty Friday was aware of the call, and that he could find no incident report.
Witnesses say the students were all boys of color, and the adult who called police was white.
The email makes clear that school administration believes police shouldn’t have been called.
“We want members of our community to know that we are very concerned about how this situation unfolded–specifically with regard to the racial power dynamics at play within our greater racial context in Madison,” it says. “We expect that any adult on our school campus not record students without their permission. We also ask that any adult who has a concern or question about our students bring these questions/concerns directly to our staff. Our staff work very intentionally to develop strong, supportive and trusting relationships with our students and their families, and are often able to respond in proactive, effective ways that respect all students’ sense of belonging and safety. This relational trust is key to shifting our overall culture toward an inclusive, actively anti-racist space that embraces and humanizes all students.”