Madison School Board (copy)

Community activist Brandi Grayson delivers remarks at Madison School District headquarters Feb. 25 about the Feb. 13 physical altercation between an 11-year-old black girl at Whitehorse Middle School and then-Whitehorse staffer Robert Mueller-Owens, who is white.

In the wake of a physical altercation last month between a then-teacher and a Madison middle-schooler, social justice and religious groups are hosting a panel discussion Tuesday to address questions about physical contact with students and how students are identified for special education services.

The event sponsored by Urban Triage, First Unitarian Society, the Community Response Team and members of Building Capacity to Protect Black Children runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive.

The question-and-answer session will focus on “policy, training and practice that governs when and how Madison (School District) staff may make physical contact with schoolchildren, the impact of such contact and how school children are issued Individualized Education Programs or IEPs,” according to a notice of the event.

Panelists will be:

  • Angie Hicks, principal, Wright Middle School.
  • Jasmine Zapata, physician.
  • M. Adams, co-executive director of the social justice group Freedom Inc.
  • Michael Jones, special education teacher, Black Hawk Middle School.
  • Brian Holmquist, coordinator of intensive support and critical response, Madison School District.
  • Tray Turner, school resource officer, Madison Police Depart
  • ment.
  • Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, civil rights attorney.

Matthew Braunginn and Brandi Grayson, who have been active in the local Black Lives Matter and police reform movements, will serve as facilitators. Neither responded to requests for comment last week, but Zapata said the event will feature questions from Grayson and Braunginn to the panel and discussion involving the audience.

Last month, positive behavior support coach Robert Mueller-Owens, who is white, was forced to resign from the school district after an altercation with a disruptive 11-year-old black girl at Whitehorse Middle School.

Each said the other initiated physical contact, but police said surveillance video of the incident did not show either trying to punch the other. After an investigation, the Dane County District Attorney declined to file charges against Mueller-Owens.

The week before, district Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham called the incident “especially horrific” and said “no matter what comes out of the police investigation, there was a failure on our part.”

On Tuesday, the weekly Isthmus newspaper reported that police investigated a March 15 incident at Leopold Elementary in which the family of a black student repeatedly threatened to harm the school’s principal, Peg Keeler, after the student incorrectly alleged that Keeler hit the student. No charges were filed.

Six Madison teachers or substitute teachers also have resigned or been released from teaching duties this school year after using the N-word in front of students. The district’s teachers union has said none of them directed the slur at students or used it in a manner meant to be derogatory. District officials have said there is a zero-tolerance policy toward saying the word.

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