Members from the Black Student Union at Madison West High School held an open meeting Thursday to discuss the recent termination of Marlon Anderson, a security guard at the school.
On Wednesday, Anderson, who is Black, was terminated after using a racial slur to defend himself from a student who used the same slur on him. Prior to his termination, Anderson had been employed by the Madison School District for 11 years — eight at East High School and three at West.
The meeting was a chance for students and staff to express their disagreements with his termination. Anderson was widely respected and loved in the school, said Izzik, a senior at West.
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“He was the only one getting out in the hallways talking and building connections to us, students,” Izzik said. “This man lost his job, his connection to his community.”
The meeting occurred at the school’s gymnasium, with students and staff filling the room. Students from BSU had opportunities to speak, as did head principal Karen Boran, who also disagreed with Anderson’s termination.
“All of us believe firmly in restorative practices,” she said to the crowd. “I am responsible for enforcing the policies and we cannot choose which policies we enforce and which ones we don’t. So therefore, it is upon all of us to change policies that make no sense, right?”
Students also had space to talk with the district’s interim chief of staff, Michael Hertting. Hertting, who said he’s known Anderson for a long time, stated how complex the issue was, particularly because of the district’s current zero-tolerance policy on staff members using racial slurs.
“This is a very challenging situation. I want to know more from you and I understand how you’re all feeling,” he told the room.
Hertting then opened the floor for questions from students and staff. One of these questions came from Anderson’s son, Noah, who helped organize the open meeting.
“Why don’t students ever get to have a say in anything?” he asked.
“The board is always interested in hearing from students,” Hertting said. “Some of the things they do is they may have meetings like this so students can take the floor. Student voice is important and student voice will continue to be important.”
Throughout the meeting, students and staff repeatedly expressed frustration at not being part of the decision-making process for implementing policies.
“We were not part of the discussion either,” a West staff member said. “We didn’t know about it, we didn’t help implement it, it was pushed on us.”
Students also brought up how quickly Anderson was terminated after this incident when it took longer for the district to take action against former Dean of Students at Whitehorse Middle School, Rob Mueller-Owens, after he threw an 11-year-old sixth grader to the ground and pulled three braids from her head. While Anderson was terminated one week after the incident, Mueller-Owens was allowed to resign after a month.
“This is also about keeping it equal in treatment between the black staffers and white staffers,” said junior Nazier. “Everyone is talking about the white staffer because it took a longer process for him to lose his job, but he resigned. But Marlon lost his job right away.”
Following the meeting, West students discussed walk out plans for Friday to protest Anderson’s termination. Students plan to walk from West High to the Doyle building on Dayton Street to speak to the interim superintendent Jane Belmore.
Ultimately, students said they want the district to understand how hurtful his termination has been to the community.
“We want to let this be known that this is a big social problem,” Izzik said. “This is for the support of Marlon Anderson and the support he has within the school. This is a demonstration of how united we are as a community to back another person in the community. We look at this as being part of a family and Marlon is a big chunk of that.”