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Sun Prairie school staff clarifies relationship with YWCA, which says no partnership in place

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The CEO of the Madison YWCA continues to maintain that the organization has not entered into a consultation agreement with Sun Prairie Area School District in the wake of a February 1 incident in which Patrick Marsh Middle School students were asked how they would punish a slave, despite school district administrators reporting partnerships with YWCA and two other organizations.

Further, she said the organization will most likely not enter into such a partnership at this point, even if one is offered.

After district officials reported a collaborative relationship had been undertaken at the February 8 Board of Education meeting, Madison365 reported that no such relationship was in place.

On Tuesday, district officials sent a 10-page document to news media that it said “serves as a response to the claim that the SPASD is not acting in good faith for our plans to collaborate with community partners for Restorative Circle Discussions.”

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,” the statement reads, in part.

Using screenshots of text messages and emails, the document details contacts between director of secondary teaching, learning and equity Sarah Chaja-Clardy and Bill Baldon, YWCA’s restorative justice manager. Chaja-Clardy had worked with Baldon previously, when she was principal of Cherokee Heights Middle School in Madison. Madison Metropolitan School District has an ongoing contract with the YWCA to provide restorative justice services.

Emails and text messages indicate that Chaja-Clardy reached out to Baldon late Friday, and Baldon indicated his willingness to assist in creating a restorative process to help staff and students heal after the unauthorized lesson. Over the weekend, Baldon shared a draft script for a restorative circle discussion, which Chaja-Clardy praised.

In the document, the school district says Chaja-Clardy offered to compensate Baldon for his time, but Baldon declined the offer and said “perhaps we might develop a partnership more formally where we could work toward having SPASD teachers go through the YWCA training this summer.”

Emails indicate that YWCA CEO Vanessa McDowell only became aware of that contact late in the day Monday. In an interview Tuesday, McDowell said those conversations did not engage YWCA in any way.

“She’s calling him as a friend,” she said. “She’s basically saying she needed help, and reached out to him as a thought partner.”

She said Baldon offering to help out didn’t constitute a partnership with the YWCA, and that Chaja-Clardy would know that.

“She knows the steps to take” to contract with an organization like YWCA, McDowell said.

Sarah Chaja-Clardy presents “action steps to engage the community,” at least one of which seems not to be true.

In her portion of a presentation staff gave to open the Board of Education’s February 8 meeting, Chaja-Clardy didn’t mention Baldon. While displaying a slide that read “Consultation with YWCA,” she said she’d “been working in consultation with the YWCA, whose mission is to eradicate racism and empower women, and partnering with an organization that is deeply steeped in restorative work will allow us to ensure that we have the right design in our circle discussions to be able to address the local and immediate needs of the Patrick Marsh community.”

McDowell said she doesn’t appreciate the name of the YWCA being invoked in that way.

“She’s manipulating her relationship with (Baldon),” McDowell said, adding that it’s very unlikely that the YWCA would contract with SPASD in the foreseeable future.

“This, to me, shows they aren’t ready to do any work or change,” she said.

In other developments, district staff also committed to hire a full-time administrator focused entirely on equity by July 1.

District officials said they would not fire Stephanie Leonard-Witte, the assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and equity, as requested in an open letter to the school district from a group of local community members. School board president Steve Schroeder became emotional while praising Leonard-Witte following the staff presentation.

“It’s clear as a school district and as a broader Sun Prairie community, we have a lot of work to do,” Schroeder said.

The district is under fire for an assignment given to sixth graders at Patrick Marsh Middle School on February 1, the first day of Black History Month.

The assignment included a question, captured in a screenshot by several parents, asking students to imagine they are speaking to a slave: “This slave has disrespected his master by telling him, ‘You are not my master!’ How do you punish this slave?”

In an email to families, superintendent Brad Saron apologized for a “grave error in judgement.”

At the time, Saron said the assignment was not approved by the school district, and district staff reiterated that several times at the board meeting Monday.

The question matches, word for word, with a question on a lesson plan that was available on the website Teachers Pay Teachers, where teachers can share resources. The material was removed from that site last Monday.