The Madison School Board conducted its business in a closed room Monday after chanting and protests drowned out conversation.
An impassioned group of parents, students and community activists expressed outrage and demanded change Monday during the board’s public comment period over an alleged altercation between a middle school employee and 11-year-old student.
A couple of hundred people filled the rows of the Doyle Administration Building’s auditorium the week after it became public that a Whitehorse Middle School staff person was removed from the school for allegedly pushing, punching and pulling the hair of an 11-year-old African-American girl.
When the public comment period ended, though, the board started its regular agenda items, which was met with call-and-response chants, making it difficult to hear what was being discussed.
The School Board went into recess and took up the meeting in another room that only district staff and board members were allowed in. The remainder of the meeting was streamed inside the auditorium where the audio was at times scratchy and varying in volume, but otherwise audible.
Matt Bell, the district’s lawyer, said the decision to move the meeting was made because the disruptions prevented it from continuing inside the auditorium.
He said he is confident the decision complied with the state’s open meetings law as the proceedings were live-streamed to the auditorium, where the meeting had been noticed to take place. Bell said he did not know the specific state statute that would allow for a change in location, but said the district sought outside legal counsel with regard to moving the proceedings prior to Monday’s meeting.
Throughout the public comment period, board members faced accusations of racism and white supremacy for not doing enough to improve the school environment for students of color.
Brandi Grayson, co-founder of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, said black children act out in school because they are “dehumanized every day, all day.”
“Because it’s under your watch, you are accountable,” Grayson said of the Whitehorse incident.
Several people connected the Feb. 13 incident at the East Side middle school to the contentious issue of school-based police officers at Madison’s four comprehensive high schools, saying both are based on systems of institutional racism.
“We demand that you dismantle school policing systems,” said Zon Moua, a staff member of social justice organization Freedom Inc. “We demand that you divest from law enforcement and school militarization.”
The mother of the Whitehorse student, Mikiea Price, spoke with Madison365 last week about the allegations and identified the staff person as Robert Mueller-Owens. The district’s directory lists Mueller-Owens, who is white, as a positive behavior support coach and an academic and career plan coordinator at the middle school, 218 Schenk St.
“I am a teacher at Whitehorse Middle School, and I support your black and brown students,” said Lara Ostrander.
Others drew a critical connection between the allegations and the district’s goal to commit to “black excellence.”
David Blaska, a conservative candidate for the board’s Seat 4, said people should wait until the Madison Police Department releases its findings on the Whitehorse incident before drawing conclusions. He said parents and children also need to be held accountable, drawing boos and jeers from the audience.
For more than two years, the topic of school-based police officers, known as school resource officers, or SROs, has been a contentious issue within the district. The Madison School District and Madison Police Department is attempting to negotiate a new contract as this school year is the last in the current three-year contract.
The new contract was not on Monday’s agenda, so speakers urged the board to deny a $30,000 contract to pay police officers for special duty assignments, such as at sporting events or graduation ceremonies, along with rejecting a policy explicitly governing how metal detectors could be used in random and “as-needed” screenings.
The School Board approved both of those items.
Neighborhood denied leave
The Madison School Board denied a petition from residents of a Fitchburg neighborhood to leave the Madison School District.
Some residents of the Swan Creek of Nine Springs neighborhood sought to leave Madison schools in favor of attaching to the Oregon School District.
They argued many of the neighborhood students already attend Oregon schools through open enrollment and that a planned elementary school would make for an easier commute than getting children to Madison’s Leopold Elementary School.
Other neighborhood residents said, though, the Madison School District offers a more diverse learning environment and has programs, such as dual-language immersion, that are not available at Oregon schools.
In 2002, the Madison and Oregon school districts agreed to a land swap involving the Swan Creek subdivision and commercial property. According to a Madison School District memo, the intent of the land swap was to increase enrollment at Madison schools and boost the property base for the Oregon School District.
Monday’s decision is the third time Swan Creek residents have been denied a petition to leave the Madison School District with previously unsuccessful attempts in 2002 and 2006, according to the memo.
“We demand that you dismantle school policing systems.” Zon Moua, staff member with Freedom Inc.