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Updated: Madison School District rescinds West High security guard termination

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The crowd of West High School students and staff spilled onto Regent Street Friday as they marched from the school to the Doyle Administration Building downtown to protest the firing of security guard Marlon Anderson. The district rescinded the termination Monday.

West High School security guard Marlon Anderson is negotiating a return to the Madison Metropolitan School District after officials rescinded his termination Monday afternoon.

Anderson announced the decision in a Facebook post, followed shortly by an email from Madison Teachers Inc. Anderson will remain on paid leave while a transition plan is finalized to return him to work, according to the email, but he is receiving pay and full benefits during that leave.

Anderson thanked supporters in his Facebook post.

“Thank you to the 1,000 plus students for allowing your voices to be heard and to all the people from across the globe for reaching out to my family,” he wrote. “Thank you MTI, West BSU, my son, Noah Anderson and my colleagues at West High School for your prayers and support. You are amazing people!”

Anderson, whose termination from Madison West High School was announced last Wednesday, was fired under a “zero tolerance” practice for use of racial slurs instituted last year, when seven teachers were fired or resigned after reportedly using a racial slur in front of students. Anderson has said he used the n-word to tell a student, who called him a “b**** a** n****,” not to use the word.

The firing led to widespread backlash from students and staff at West, including more than 1,000 people walking out of the school last Friday. That day, the school's Black Student Union executive committee met with district officials for nearly two hours at the Doyle Administration Building while classmates continued to chant outside.

MMSD interim superintendent Jane Belmore told reporters following a Madison School Board work group meeting Monday night the decision to rescind the termination had been “under discussion for a long time,” with the goal to minimize harm to students.

“The history with the practice has been implemented pretty strongly, and we think this is an opportunity to kind of step back and review our practice and make sure we are taking into account the levels of complexity that go along with a decision like this,” Belmore said. “We know we need to relook at this practice through a number of different lenses, our students included. We got that loud and clear.”

One of the students who pushed for that message was Anderson’s son, Noah, a West High School senior and the president of the Black Student Union. Noah, who turned 18 Monday, spent part of his birthday at the Doyle Administration Building, planning to listen to what board members said. As he walked into the building, he told reporters later, he got a call from his dad sharing the good news.

“I feel great,” Noah Anderson said. “I was just like, ‘Wow.’”

But, he added, “the fight’s not over,” as he and his peers want to make the “zero tolerance” practice into a “fair rule.”

“We got this part accomplished, now it’s onto the next part,” he said. “I just see a great future for MMSD on having students’ voices be heard.”

Shortly before the decision to rescind the termination was announced, School Board president Gloria Reyes asked Belmore in a statement to do just that.

"I have requested that the Superintendent review the current situation regarding the use of racial slurs in school and rescind the termination," Reyes wrote in a statement.

Reyes said in the statement the district took a stand last year that “we would never excuse the deep pain of this hateful, violent language, regardless of intent,” but that it needs to be reconsidered.

“In our commitment to tackle anti-racism we have created universal practices using the non-discrimination policy to protect those who are most impacted by racial slurs,” Reyes said. “This is an opportunity for the board to review the policies and practices that are currently being used and dive deep into the issues of racism in our schools. It is important that we do not harm those that we are trying to protect."

More than 12,000 people signed a petition requesting Anderson’s reinstatement and celebrities have weighed in following national coverage, including Cher offering to cover any legal expenses.

The teachers' union filed a grievance on behalf of Anderson, and MTI executive director Doug Keillor said last week a hearing with an independent hearing officer had been scheduled for Nov. 12. Earlier in the day, MTI had sent a letter to district officials and School Board members requesting Anderson's immediate reinstatement.

Belmore said she was not sure how the decision would affect the seven staff members or substitutes who were fired or resigned last year. Kaleem Caire, who had advocated for Anderson publicly and directly to the district since the Oct. 9 incident, told reporters he hopes the district hires an independent group or person to review each of those cases as well.

Caire said watching Anderson get fired after sitting through a meeting with the security guard and a district human resources staffer was “like being witness to an execution,” but he’s glad to see the district do the “right thing” in reversing its decision.

Noah Anderson said he hopes to keep the momentum going, including efforts to form a citywide Black Student Union, but at the moment, he’s proud of what he and his peers accomplished, having asked the district officials to rescind the firing within a week when they met on Friday.

“For them to listen, that really means a lot,” he said. “I think the student voice was humongous.”

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.