A staff member at Madison’s Whitehorse Middle School has been removed from the school after allegedly pushing, punching and pulling out the hair of an 11-year-old student last week.
Madison police are investigating after a parent reported just after 9 a.m. on Feb. 13 that her child had been assaulted at the East Side middle school, said police spokesman Joel DeSpain.
Madison365, which first reported on the alleged altercation Wednesday, said the incident started in a classroom after a teacher called the staff person in because the 11-year-old and another student were spraying too much perfume. It eventually moved to a hallway where a security camera captured part of the incident.
“As a district we take any situation of this nature very seriously,” Madison School District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said in a statement. “The staff person was put on leave while the situation was investigated. Based on that investigation, the staff person will not return to Whitehorse Middle School.”
Strauch-Nelson would not identify the staff member or the person’s position. She said the staff member has requested a personal leave, and “final steps will be taken when the employee returns from that leave.”
According to the Madison365 report, the girl’s mother, Mikiea Price, identified the staff member as 52-year-old Robert Mueller-Owens. The Madison School District’s staff directory lists Mueller-Owens as an academic and career plan coordinator and a positive behavior support coach at Whitehorse Middle School.
The Rev. Marcus Allen, pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church, said he viewed security camera footage with Price and others on Friday. Price and her daughter attend the church, Allen said. He said the daughter called Price after the incident.
Allen said the footage from a camera in a hallway of the school shows a tall, bald man “forcibly pushing” a student out of a classroom from one side of the hallway to the other. Both the student and man fall to the ground, he said, and after about 20 to 30 seconds another adult appears to intervene.
Allen said the video is not very clear because the incident was happening at the far end of the hall. Asked whether the images appeared to show an assault, Allen said he thought they did.
Strauch-Nelson said the district would not publicly release the video while police are actively investigating.
“The fact that the staff person has been suspended and will not be returning to Whitehorse is, to me, an indication that it was not the appropriate way to handle the situation,” said School Board President Mary Burke, who had not seen the video.
According to the Madison365 report, Price said she went to the school, at 218 Schenk St., after the call, and her daughter handed her three braids that she said had been pulled from her scalp.
Price said her daughter initially refused to leave the classroom when asked to by Mueller-Owens, according to the report. Price said her daughter eventually agreed to leave, and Mueller-Owens pushed the girl as they were heading out, which prompted the girl to tell him, “Don’t put your hands on me,” before Mueller-Owens pushed her again and punched her, according to the report.
Price told Madison365 that punching does not appear on the video.
In 2015, The Capital Times reported Mueller-Owens attended a White House-sponsored event in Washington, D.C., with Superintendent Jen Cheatham and another school district administrator for a round-table event about reforming discipline in schools. The event came soon after the Madison School District rolled out its Behavior Education Plan, which moved the district away from zero-tolerance policies for misbehavior.
Mueller-Owens and Madison Teachers Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.