Leopold Conflict illustrates simmering tension in Madison schools

Dylan Brogan:

But the Leopold student was not telling the truth. The alleged assault was caught on video surveillance. Blackamore, after viewing the footage, concluded that “there was nothing that appeared to be any intentional striking or harm done to [the student].” The mother of the student eventually told the police “several times how deeply she regretted her actions and apologized for her behavior.”

This incident, the latest in a series of racially charged conflicts in Madison’s schools, is another example of how much mistrust exists between parents and the school district. District Spokesperson Rachel Strauch-Nelson urged Isthmus not to publicize the episode, saying it would prevent healing between the family and the staff at Leopold, and reinforce negative stereotypes.

School board member TJ Mertz, who lost his re-election bid on April 2, didn’t know the details of the Leopold incident. But he says, generally, trust between families and the schools is “greatly strained” and teachers don’t feel like they are supported by administrators when children act out.

“There is damage that is done just by an accusation. The accusation damages reputations. It causes stress for people who are already stressed,” Mertz tells Isthmus. “If the accusations are real, then yeah, all of that is deserved. But when things aren’t so cut and dried, there is a sense from staff that no one has their back.”

This has created an environment where teachers and other educators are afraid of how their actions will be perceived, rather than being judged by what actually occurred.

“It’s not just Leopold, it’s all over the district. It makes it very difficult for people to work together for the best of the kids,” says Mertz. “There is a lot of fear among our staff of something like this happening.”

However, in a statement provided to Isthmus, Keeler says it’s important to have “trusting relationships with all of our families and students.”

“We’re committed to working proactively to have those strong relationships with our families so that if there is ever a conflict of any kind, we can come together and resolve it in a way that restores relationships in our community, and puts our students at the center,” writes Keeler. “Every student and family should feel welcome, safe, and supported, and like they belong in our school community.”