Hundreds of people turned out and dozens made passionate appeals to the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education meeting Monday night to beg for and demand more accountability for the safety of Black and brown students in Madison schools.
The public comment period, which at times became raucous, was dominated by students, parents and community leaders responding to a February 13 incident at Whitehorse Middle School in which 52-year-old Dean of Students Rob Mueller-Owens allegedly assaulted an 11-year-old student.
Thirty-five people spoke, some going over their allotted three minutes and virtually shouting at the board after the microphone was cut off.
“Sometimes y’all forget the destruction and violation of the children’s bodies that taken place under your watch,” said community activist Brandi Grayson. “And because it’s under your watch, you are accountable. Each and every last one of y’all.”
Student Ashzianna leads a call and response at the school board meeting: “Mama mama can’t you see what the school board’s done to me?” #AssaultAtWhitehorse pic.twitter.com/eSOwLOOKKJ
— Madison365 (@madison_365) February 26, 2019
Tevin, who introduced himself as “a nine-year-old kid,” said it is “terrifying that a teacher hurt a kid. I’m nine years old and I know black lives matter,” he added, to a thunderous ovation.
“What white supremacy looks like is, this grown ass man can be seen as somebody who lost it or we’re not sure what happened. It doesn’t matter what happened, what happened was a grown ass man lost his … temper,” said Kabzuag Vaj, whose 11-year-old daughter is also a student at Whitehorse. “Why am I as a Hmong mother, a Hmong woman, a refugee kid here to support an 11-year-old black girl? It’s because her humanity is tied to mine and until you will see her as a human being I know you can’t see me.”
A speaker identified as Mike asked those in the crowd who knew someone who had experienced violence in school to stand; the majority of the people stood.
Many speakers connected the incident with the school district’s contract with Madison Police to place police officers in schools, a policy opposed by most of those in attendance.
Community activist M Adams said the incident was predictable.
“I remember, perhaps it was four or five years ago, that I was in a meeting similar to this, except it was the mayor and the mayor’s cronies. And I said, ‘Look, your police are out of hand and you need to get them under wraps.’ And the group leader said, something like ‘we’re not as bad as other places. It’s not like we have cops killing people.’ And then a year later, Tony Robinson was shot and killed and murdered (by a Madison police officer),” Adams said. “Now here we are, four, five years later and I’m in a similar setting. Well, we were here two years ago and said you have White Supremacist policies. Now, these policies are forcing black kids to not have a good education. Tearing up the morale of black children. Not supportive of black families who want to support their black children within the schools. And people say, ‘Oh well it’s not that bad, because we’re not like other places where our black children are being beaten by teachers.’ And here we are, there you go.”
“Last week an 11-year-old girl was physically abused by an MMSD employee. How can you commit to Black Excellence and allow one of your people to put his hands on a baby?” said Amy Castro, a substitute teacher in the district, referring to the district’s Black Excellence program, which aims to support Black students’ success. “How can you justify not firing him and instead putting him on leave? We all know what happened. How can you expect police in school to behave any better when they’ve treated you the same way outside of schools?”
Becky Rowland said she moved her two biracial daughters to three different schools last year due to racist incidents and ultimately chose to homeschool them.
“These people behind me, they don’t have the white privilege of not working,” she said. “I’m white, my wife makes a great salary, and I have the privilege of staying home with my kids. But people who need the love and the support can’t afford to do that. You’re failing these people.”
After the public comment period, the board attempted to take up its regular business but had to move to a closed room due to continued chanting and protesting from community members. Video of the meeting was streamed into the auditorium at the Doyle Administration Building, which district officials said satisfied legal open meetings requirements.
The school district says security video captured a portion of the incident but has declined to release it, citing the ongoing police investigation.