The CEO of the Madison YWCA says 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 students were asked how they would punish a slave, despite school district administrators reporting partnerships with YWCA and two other organizations.
The Board of Education opened its February 8 meeting with a detailed and rehearsed presentation by administrative staff regarding the incident and the staff’s response. Staff repeatedly reiterated that the lesson in question was not part of district-approved curriculum, but was supplemental material apparently acquired independently by teachers.
The teachers involved remain on administrative leave, district officials said, pending the outcome of an independent investigation led by a local attorney. District officials have not responded to questions as to how many teachers are currently on leave.
Also during the presentation, secondary director of teaching, learning and equity Sarah Chaja-Clardy said the district was consulting with the YWCA, Transformative Action Network and Courageous Conversations Global Foundation to create restorative justice circles beginning this week.
However, in text messages to Madison365, YWCA Madison CEO Vanessa McDowell said no such partnership was in place.
Sun Prairie school district employees did not respond to follow-up emails from Madison365, but told the Wisconsin State Journal that while no formal partnership was in place, YWCA staff were providing “technical assistance” on restorative justice work.
But in an email to Madison365 late Monday night, McDowell said that also is not true.
“YWCA Madison has no partnership with Sun Prairie (and) is not in consultation with them,” she wrote.
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.