West High School security assistant Marlon Anderson returned to work Tuesday after his firing and reinstatement last month that brought a spotlight to the Madison School District’s zero tolerance practice for the n-word.
Anderson said Wednesday it was “absolutely amazing” to see the students again.
“It’s just been a blessing,” Anderson said. “The kids have been very happy to see me, I’ve been very happy to see them. I think I literally broke a world record in hugs for one day.”
Anderson was fired Oct. 16 for using the n-word in an Oct. 9 incident in telling a student not to call him that word. Opposition to the decision came quickly after it was made public, building to an Oct. 18 walkout at West with more than 1,500 students and staff led by the school’s Black Student Union, of which the executive committee members met with district leadership at the Doyle Administration Building later that day.
The firing was rescinded by interim superintendent Jane Belmore Monday, Oct. 21, and the time since then was spent working on a transition plan to bring Anderson back to the school. He said Wednesday he was not sure what took more than two weeks to get him back, but he found out Monday after meeting with school administrators that he could return on Tuesday.
The district adopted its zero tolerance approach last year in the midst of at least seven incidents in which a teacher used the n-word. Two cases are currently being appealed by Madison Teachers Inc.
The Anderson situation has prompted district officials and School Board members to call for reconsideration of the practice to take context into account and consider how staff can educate students on the history of the n-word.
In the weeks since the incident, Anderson said he had watched his son Noah — the BSU president at West — transform into a leader and “had this unbelievable opportunity to see the effect that I’ve had on people’s lives.”
“People received the love that I gave,” he said. “I literally was like, I feel that people should be loved, I believe in honoring people and just trying to treat people with respect. It literally paid off when people saw what happened to me, they felt that it was wrong, and they said let’s fight this.
“It’s like I went to my own funeral and heard all the good things that people said, but I was alive.”