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Teacher calls student “dummy” in text message accidentally sent to student’s mom

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A Hawthorne Elementary School teacher is under investigation after referring to a fifth-grader as a “dummy” and expressing desire to slap her and her mother “through the phone” in text messages accidentally sent to the student’s mother.

Tyeisha Ivy-Willis said she was trying to get her daughter, a fifth-grader at Hawthorne, connected to online learning and enrichment opportunities after schools were closed statewide, but was having trouble doing so. She also thought other students were getting packets of homework or learning materials and wanted to make sure her daughter had everything she was supposed to have. She said she called Hawthorne principal Beth Lehman, who said she should speak with her daughter’s classroom teacher. Ivy-Willis then asked the teacher to send login information by text message. Even with that information, her daughter had trouble accessing the school district’s online resources, so Ivy-Willis texted and emailed the teacher once more. 

She said she didn’t want to get on the teacher’s nerves but is “very strict on my child’s education.”

Tuesday morning, she found several missed calls from the teacher on her phone, but wasn’t sure why. Then she looked at her text messages, and found two messages from the teacher: 

“I’ve had emails from dummy (student) and her mom. What is my lexis password? What is the library portal? How do I get on the home page?” And in the next message, “I want to slap them through the phone!”

It’s not clear who the intended recipient of the text messages was, but Ivy-Willis believes it was meant to be sent to Lehman.

“These are the only two people that I had been talking to,” Ivy-Willis said. “Who else was she messaging to? It doesn’t make sense.”

Ivy-Willis said she called teacher but was unsatisfied with the explanation that her daughter “was just dumb with the computer,” and hung up and instead sent a text message: “YOU WANT TO SLAP ME THROUGH THE PHONE BECAUSE I WANT INFORMATION FOR MY CHILD.” 

“So sorry not slap you,” the teacher responded. “… will never be able to explain without hurting you.”

Screen shot courtesy Tyeisha Ivy-Willis

The teacher “kept calling me and calling me and calling me,” but she didn’t answer, Ivy-Willis said. Ivy-Willis tried calling the principal, Lehman, who didn’t answer until hours later. Ivy-Willis called Madison Police, who took a report, deeming the message about wanting to “slap them through the phone” as a threat.

Meanwhile, “my daughter started freaking out,” Ivy-Willis said. “My daughter is very hurt. This was a teacher that was supposed to graduate her from fifth grade. She just keeps crying.”

When Lehman did call back, Ivy-Willis said Lehman told her she would be in touch with Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) human resources, and was quick to distance herself from any threatening language.

“After me and (Lehman) talked about the whole thing, she’s like, ‘Yeah, I do have messages from her, but I never responded. The police can look through my phone records. I never responded,’” Ivy-Willis said. 

Ivy-Willis said she’s concerned this might not be an isolated incident.

“She was comfortable saying this,” Ivy-Willis said. “How many times has she called my daughter dumb? Who was she talking to when she said this? I am not happy about this at all.”

Neither the teacher nor Lehman responded to messages seeking comment. MMSD spokesman Timothy LeMond said the district is taking the matter seriously.

“The district finds this extremely disappointing and it is not representative of who we are as a school community,” he wrote in an email to Madison365. “We are taking this very seriously and will be looking into this and addressing it as quickly as possible.”

He declined to confirm the teacher’s identity, but later said they would be addressing it with the staff member involved on Wednesday afternoon. He declined to comment on any disciplinary action, citing policy not to comment on personnel issues. 

The teacher was still listed as a teacher on the district website on Saturday. 

On Friday, Lehman texted Ivy-Willis, “I continue to remain deeply sorry about this situation,” according to text messages shared with Madison365. “The district is handling things in a very serious manner, as is necessary.”