The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) is in a crisis of its own making right now. Not long ago, a middle school staff member was allegedly caught on security cameras wrestling a student to the ground, punching her and pulling one of her braids out. This incident carries racial overtones as the educator is white and the student is African-American.
Although the educator was promptly put on leave, that has not helped calm tensions in our community. It has gotten so bad, that rather than convene a dedicated listening session to hear community grievances, the school board decided, at its last meeting to go behind closed doors due to the loud protestors, after they had provided their time limited public input.
Today, MMSD Superintendent Jen Cheatham, issued an open letter to the community promising unspecified changes to address this issue and other racial incidents in the district. As is true to her form, the letter fails to include measurable goals and accountability measures for failing to achieve those goals. This is not the first she has engaged in such non-specifics. In fact, the Black Excellence Plan, to which she refers in her letter, similarly fails to contain specific measurable goals. Nor does it contain accountability measures for failure to achieve even the vague goals in the plan.
When it comes to child abuse, we actually have laws that give very specific instructions on how to handle such cases. Wis. Stat. Sec. 48.981(2), requires all teachers, school social workers, school counselors, school administrators and all other school employees to report all abuse or neglect as well as threats of abuse or neglect that they suspect, to the County Department of Human Services. The mandated reporter law was established because as we have seen in so many institutions, the tendency of administrators is to protect their institutions before protecting children. Mandated reporters can and should be prosecuted for failure to meet this duty not only because it is a legal requirement, but because without such reporting serial abusers are allowed to perpetrate their abuse repeatedly without punishment, leaving more scarred child victims in their wake. By requiring all such reports to be made to the County Department of Human Services, trained child abuse investigators can determine whether such reports are substantiated or not. Equally important, they can determine if the accused perpetrator has had other complaints against him or her in the past, which can lend further credence to the report.
Both Superintendent Cheatham and the school board should call for an immediate zero tolerance for child abuse by all MMSD staff, as well as zero tolerance for failure to report child abuse by any MMSD staff. In my many years of representing children abused by school staff, every single instance involved serial abuse of many students over many years, that was allowed to proceed unpunished because school staff failed to exercise their legal duty as mandated reporters. MMSD has an opportunity to end this malfeasance and it must do so promptly before any other children get hurt.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.