Cries of outrage echoed through the meeting room as a passionate crowd of students, parents, faculty and community members listed their concerns about racism in schools and listened to board members discuss funding yesterday.
Students, their families and school faculty have been attending and speaking at board meetings for years, advocating for police to be taken out of schools and for tangible racial justice reform. But yesterday, the passion in the audience was reignited by a recent instance of violence against a young girl.
At Whitehorse Middle School, an 11-year-old black girl was attacked by the acting principal and “positive behavior support coach” Rob Mueller-Owens, a white male, on February 13th.
Price was not notified by the school and only later found out about the attack when her daughter returned home.
Mueller-Owens has been placed on leave while investigations proceed and has not been fired. The Madison School Board did not respond to the incident immediately after it occurred but waited days to respond, according to an audience member.
Community members at yesterday’s meeting said they do not believe the board took necessary action against Mueller-Owens.
“Somehow y’all forget the destruction and violation to children's bodies that’s taking place under your watch, and because it’s under your watch you’re accountable,” said community activist Brandi Grayson at the meeting. “Enough is enough. We’re sick and tired of being tired.”
Grayson mentioned that the school board functions as a tool to further white supremacy, especially because most of the board members are white, which does not represent the makeup of the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Audience members also communicated their frustration over the use of policing and metal detectors in schools, and dismay at the that will pay for police in 2019, which the school board supported this past December.
Many members highlighted that the recent attack at Whitehorse is not an isolated incident; rather, there have been other acts of violence and as well as other derogatory terms targeted specifically against students of color.
Community members, young and old, of diverse races and genders, spoke at the podium for their allotted three minutes, sometimes leading the crowd behind them in chants.
A young boy pulled the microphone down and said, “I’m nine years old and I know black lives matter.”
“We shouldn’t have to keep coming to these meetings to prove that we don’t need cops in schools,” another speaker said.“If the tables were turned and we were white, we’d get what we want immediately.”
The board, though implicated by many audience members, maintain they put Madison students and families first.
“We are here to listen carefully. We’ll take your comments into account in our decision making and follow up with you where appropriate,” said board member Mary Burke.
After the public comment section, which lasted for about two hours, the board members continued with their agenda, which included denying a petition for Swan Creek neighborhood to leave the Madison Metropolitan School District.
However, during board deliberations, the audience began to chant in a deafening call and response:
“Mama mama can’t you see?
What the school board’s done to me.
They beat us up and kick us out.
Ain’t no justice in this town.
Mama mama can’t you see?
What police have done to me.
They lock us up and shoot us down.
Ain’t no justice in this town.”
The board decided to reconvene in another room to continue the meeting because of the chants, the legality of which was by community members. However, the move to a separate room is legal, according to the district’s lawyer Matt Bell, though he said he was not sure of the specific statute that would allow for a change in location.
Regular board meetings are generally held every last Monday of the month at 6 p.m. in the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St. Community members will likely be there to speak to the board again.
“As a parent of a brown child, I should not have to worry about anything but that my son is getting the right education,” an audience member said.