More than 1,000 students and staff left Madison West High School around 10:00 this morning to make the two-mile walk to the Madison Metropolitan School District Administrative Office and demand that security guard Marlon Anderson be given his job back.

Anderson, 48, was fired on Wednesday as district officials cited the district’s “zero tolerance” policy on the use of racial slurs. Anderson said he used the N-word to defend himself against a student who was using it at him — saying “Don’t call me that, don’t call me n—–” as an assistant principal stood by and, rather than addressing the student, used her radio to broadcast Anderson’s words to the rest of the support staff at the school.

Students split into two groups to encircle the building as they arrived. Photo by Robert Chappell.

A student petition in Anderson’s support was already circulating before he was terminated, and staff and administration at West — including the assistant principal involved in the incident — have said they are opposed to his termination.

Led by Black Student Union president Noah Anderson — Marlon Anderson’s son — the students and staff walked to the Doyle Administration Building on West Dayton Street and encircled it, chanting, “Bring Back Marlon,” “context matters” and “hey hey, ho ho, zero tolerance has got to go.”

“Marlon is Black Excellence,” student Grace Middleton to the crowd. “He gave us a safe space in a district where we often feel neglected.”

A group of about a dozen BSU members met with Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore, School Board President Gloria Reyes and School Board member Savion Castro for nearly two hours. Afterward, Noah Anderson said he felt heard.

“First and foremost, we want to thank them for listening to everything and taking everything that we were saying into consideration,” he said.

He said administrators assured the students that the grievance process, through which Marlon Anderson could potentially be reinstated in his job, would be expedited. He also said administrators promised to make students a part of policy-making and decision-making processes in the future.

“They’re going to review the (zero-tolerance) policy and everything. We will be heard,” Noah Anderson said. “In everything that involves us, anything that’s got anything to do with us, our voices will be heard from now on.”

West BSU President Noah Anderson addresses the crowd after meeting with district officials. Photo by Robert Chappell.

Castro said the district does not actually have a written zero-tolerance policy, but a zero-tolerance policy was enacted after a series of incidents last year in which white teachers used racial slurs.

“It’s generally under the anti discrimination policy, but it’s been practiced that the use of racial slurs in a, in a school setting is not professional,” Castro said. “We’ve got to take this head on . Language is complicated. We’ve got to keep that in mind in a thoughtful and deliberate way.”

“I trust them,” Noah Anderson said of the administrators after the meeting. “I’m satisfied with the fact that we were heard. I’m not satisfied just yet until everything goes the way it should go.”

Marlon Anderson is not being paid during the grievance process, though if his termination is overturned, he will receive back pay. In the meantime, community members have started a GoFundMe campaign to help the Anderson family. It has raised nearly $2,500 so far.