A cross-categorical teacher at Hamilton Middle School is on leave after using a racial slur with a student — the same student involved in a racial slur incident almost exactly one year ago — school district officials confirmed.
Ruby Clay, the student’s mother, said in an interview Tuesday that on October 17, the teacher, who is white and was a substitute in the class at the time, was discussing the previous incident with the student, who is now in seventh grade.
In an email to parents Thursday, Hamilton Middle School Principal John Burkholder wrote, “We are investigating the incident, and that staff member is on leave and not at school. Our top priority has been to support the student involved and take the appropriate next steps, and that is where our focus has been. … While I cannot get into details, I want to emphasize that racial slurs have no place in our school.”
Clay said it began when students on the bus were discussing the recent incident in which Marlon Anderson, a Black security guard at Madison West, was fired for repeating the n-word to a student who was using it against him. That incident drew international media attention after Madison365 first reported it on October 9, and many local outlets made reference to a series of racial slur incidents in Madison schools, including one involving Clay’s child.
“Kiddos on the bus were talking about the incident and … she was trying to tell them that she didn’t want to talk about it, and she didn’t want to hear people talking about it … she went to school when she confided in her teachers to let them know what was going on and what she was dealing with.”
Clay said one of those teachers “breached her trust” by asking specifically what was said in last year’s incident, and then repeating the word himself.
“She told him exactly what was said to her and he leaned in and kind of like, lowered his voice, and said ‘Well, they called you a little n*****?’”
But he repeated the word, Clay said.
Clay said her daughter stood up for herself this time.
“She said, ‘Hey, you can’t say that word. You can’t use that word.’ And so this morning she said, ‘Mom, I stood up for myself.’”
Clay said her daughter told another teacher what happened, and that teacher alerted Burkholder, who then called Clay and let her know the teacher had been suspended immediately.
“When he called me, I literally … I thought this was like a sick joke,” Clay said. “I’m like, no, come on now. You couldn’t imagine how I felt as a mother. This was the same month it happened last year. She hasn’t really had an opportunity to heal. Every incident that has happened, they always reference the Hamilton incident. You keep hearing about it.”
Clay said neither she nor her daughter intends to put anyone out of work.
“We’re not here to fire teachers and get teachers fired,” she said. “She felt bad. She was like, ‘Mom, he’s not going to be able to be around his students anymore.’ She was really like hurt behind it. I still keep trying to tell her, ‘Hey, it’s not your fault. He still made a choice to use the word. Don’t beat yourself up about it.’”
Clay did say her daughter fears retribution if the teacher returns to Hamilton, but that Burkholder told Clay Thursday that the teacher would not be returning to Hamilton.
Madison Teachers, Inc, the union that represents teachers and other school staff, declined to confirm that a teacher from Hamilton was currently involved in a disciplinary proceeding.
“MTI is representing a number of members who have been disciplined under this policy,” MTI executive director Doug Keillor wrote in an email to Madison365. “The only names we are sharing publicly at this time are those members who have appealed the discipline and have chosen to share the details of their situations publicly, those being Marlon Anderson and Sandra Rivera.”
Rivera is a social worker at Nuestro Mundo School who says she repeated the word in a staff meeting with no students present and was disciplined, though not terminated, as a result. She is appealing the discipline.
After several similar incidents last year, Madison Metropolitan School District officials adopted a “zero tolerance” practice for racial slurs, but the school board has promised to revisit that policy.