A black security guard who was fired from Madison’s West High School last week for repeating a racial slur a student had hurled at him, in an attempt to correct the student, will get his job back.
Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore said she rescinded the termination of Marlon Anderson Monday.
The decision comes less than a week after Anderson was fired Wednesday for what he said was defending himself from a student who was calling Anderson the N-word. The incident was followed by days of outrage among community members, a student walkout and national attention.
“I’m back!!” Anderson wrote in a Facebook post Monday.
Anderson will be on paid leave as he and the Madison School District work on a transition plan for the 48-year-old to return to West High, Belmore said.
In a statement, School Board President Gloria Reyes said she asked Belmore to rescind the termination, which stemmed from a zero-tolerance approach by the district on the use of racial slurs by employees. The policy, put in place last year, has resulted in at least seven employees losing their jobs.
“As we experienced a series of racial slurs last school year, we had to take a stand — that we would unequivocally protect students from harm,” Reyes said in the statement. “That we would never excuse the deep pain of this hateful, violent language, regardless of intent.”
Reyes added, though, that it’s “important that we do not harm those that we are trying to protect.”
Supporters of Anderson, who has been a security guard in Madison high schools for 11 years, argued the zero-tolerance approach did not take into account the context of the situation.
On Oct. 9, Anderson said a disruptive student, who is also black, repeatedly called him the N-word and other obscenities. In response, Anderson said he told the male student several times not to use the slur, including a phrase like “do not call me a N-word,” using the actual word.
In his Facebook post Monday, Anderson thanked the estimated 1,500 students, faculty and community members who marched on the district headquarters Friday in support of him. He also thanked West High’s Black Student Union — which is headed by Anderson’s son, Noah — the teachers union, and “all the people from across the globe for reaching out to my family.”
The reversal on Anderson’s firing came hours after Madison Teachers Inc., which represents teachers and other employees, called for him to be immediately reinstated. The union and Anderson had filed a grievance last week, and Anderson’s appeal was supposed to be heard by an impartial hearing officer next month.
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Noah Anderson was walking into the district’s Doyle Administration Building Monday afternoon to hear whether his father’s situation would be discussed at a work group meeting of the Madison School Board when Anderson called his son to tell him about the decision.
“I feel great, man,” said Noah Anderson, who turned 18 on Monday and was part of a meeting on Friday between district officials and members of the Black Student Union. “We continue, because the fight’s not over. What we’re trying to do now is we’re trying to change the no-tolerance rule, we’re trying to make it better and make it a fair rule.”
Reyes, in her statement, said the School Board will review policies that formed the basis of the administrative approach to racial slurs.
The zero-tolerance policy on racial slurs was not formally adopted by the School Board. It was put in place last year under then-Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham based on official board policies, such as one governing non-discrimination.
“Going forward, we will review our practice, and we remain dedicated to protecting our students and staff from harm by implementing practices that are reflective of the humanity involved,” Reyes said in her statement. “We will grapple with complexity and assess it through a lens of deep racial equity.”
Last week, Belmore said the previous cases in which staff were either fired or resigned over the use of racial slurs all involved white employees. One of those cases is being appealed, she said.
Speaking with reporters after Monday’s work group meeting — during which Anderson’s case and the zero-tolerance approach were not discussed because they were not included on the agenda — Belmore said she couldn’t comment on whether the decision to rescind Anderson’s termination affects the other incidents.
In an email to staff, Belmore said hiring and firing decisions are ultimately those of the superintendent.
“I want to be very clear that as we go forward, we will keep students at the center,” she said. “Our commitment to anti-racism and use of the input from community, especially our students, is unwavering.”
Belmore went to West High Monday to hear from students and staff about the situation.
“I appreciate their hard work on this,” she said. “I know it’s been so difficult for them.”