Hamilton Middle School sent a letter to parents Tuesday night addressing an incident last week where a teacher allegedly used a racial slur against a seventh-grade student.
The Madison School District said in a statement that the teacher was asked not to report to school while officials investigate.
In the letter to parents, the school said it could not share details of the incident other than saying, "It involved the use of inappropriate racial language by a staff member, which has been reported in the media today." Madison365 first reported the incident Tuesday morning.
The student’s mother told the Cap Times the teacher intervened in a conversation between two students, and responded to the black student, “How would you like it if I called you a n-----?”
The mother said her daughter is the only black student in her class. Hamilton Middle School is named after Velma Hamilton, a trailblazer in Madison’s civil rights and education communities who helped found the Madison chapter of the NAACP.
Six percent of Hamilton’s students are African-American, according to Madison School District records.
The student’s mother said the teacher became verbally abusive and referred to her as a bully for her actions.
“She built a bond with that teacher. That trust, that bond — she destroyed that when she decided to step out of her professional role and shame my daughter,” the student’s mother said.
“Honestly it doesn’t matter what was said prior to her saying the n-word,” the student’s mother said. “There’s no room for that. She created a very hostile environment that had a ripple effect around the school.”
Other students who witnessed the incident began to repeat the racial slur, according to the student’s mother.
“One student in particular flat-out called her a n---- to her face and was bold about it,” the mother said. “Again, he saw his teacher normalizing it and making it OK, it makes sense he thought it was OK.”
Her daughter has not returned to school since the incident due to taunting from other students, she said.
Other students appear to be looking for answers as well. One peer sent the student a message on Snapchat Monday night asking why she wasn’t at school, saying, “Is it because of what that teacher did to you?” according to the mother.
"First and foremost, I know we all agree that a situation like this at our school is deeply concerning and unacceptable," the letter to parents from Principal Jessica Taylor said. "As soon as we were informed, we immediately followed our protocol to investigate and take follow-up action."
Taylor said the school will work with students and staff who were directly involved "by leveraging our emerging culturally responsive practices."
A teachers' union official said it is important for schools to respond to these incidents by informing parents and students before situations get played out in the media.
"Ideally, I would want the district or somebody sharing a broader description with affected parents — parents at Hamilton who have kids in the class, fellow staff members most directly involved in this — to share a broader perspective of what exactly happened here," Doug Keillor, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said Tuesday before the letter was sent out.
Keillor, who confirmed the teacher is being represented by MTI, noted that dealing with individual student issues in the media often leads to certain narratives that can be framed the wrong way.
"It's really unfortunate when a student-educator issue gets played out publicly, especially on social media," Keillor said. "It makes it really challenging with issues surrounding students because this is an educational environment and student confidentiality has to be respected."
The mother had a meeting with Taylor, who said school administrators met with the teacher for an hour to discuss what happened. The Madison School District’s human resources department is investigating the incident.
Initially, the mother of the student said her daughter was going to be placed in three new classes in order to not have to interact with the teacher. However, concerns were raised about the teacher still being in the same building as the student.
“That (moving the student to a different class) is even more painful. She (her daughter) didn’t cause the harm,” the mother said.
The teacher admitted to using a racial slur against the student in her meeting with the principal and was apologetic and emotional, the mother said.
“You (the teacher) are not the victim in this,” the student’s mother said. “You don’t get to be the victim in this. I’m so tired of the tears — you were not tearful when you said the n-word multiple times.”
The Madison School District said in an initial statement that they investigated an issue at Hamilton that they were informed of late last week.
“As soon as we were informed, school staff began investigating,” the statement said. “The school and the district is very concerned about the situation and has acted quickly to determine next steps.”
It was not immediately clear how long the investigation would take. Keillor noted that an issue such as this one usually wouldn't require a long or drawn-out investigation.
The teacher involved in the incident did not immediately respond to a request for comment.