MADISON — A high school in Woke Madison finds itself accused of racial segregation once again — and its principal apologizing.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) this week sent a letter to Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins, warning about the practices of Madison West High School.
WILL’s letter follows a school district email inviting high school families to discuss “all the police brutality and violence that is going on,” according to the Milwaukee-based public interest law firm. The school email asserts that it is “very necessary to have space for our families to discuss and process.” It then provides two different Zoom links; one for parents of color, the other for white parents.
The Zoom events were scheduled for Thursday, April 22.
“Racial segregation is never beneficial or benign. It is our hope that the leadership at MMSD take this opportunity to commit the school district to the principle of equality and end all racial segregation immediately,” said Dan Lennington, WILL deputy counsel.
West High School Principal Karen Boran has issued an apology, stating that the message “did not convey our intention in a manner that supports our core values.“ She added that the wording in the communication “lacked clarity.”
The school’s intention, Boran said, was to provide parents “affinity spaces” in which to safely discuss police brutality against people of color.
Last week’s invitation, marked the second time in the past year that WILL has sent the school district a warning letter alleging segregation in education.
Madison West last summer hosted “virtual discussion spaces” for students and staff to “process the pain our community is feeling at this present moment” and “work towards being an anti-racist community.” It provided links for two separate Zoom calls — one for white students and one for students of color.
“Please join the Zoom space where you most closely identify,” an email obtained at the time by WILL advised. The purpose of the separate but equal sessions was to “maximize [students’] level of emotional safety and security,” according to the email.
The law firm pointed out that West’s broad classification of the high school’s student body into “white students” and “students of color” only served to alienate students who do not fit neatly into the racial categories. That criticism applies to the recent Zoom sessions for parents.
West High School’s principal did not publicly apologize for that incident. The school used the same affinity group model. Tim LeMonds, the school district’s public information officer at the time, said no student was told which group to attend, and attendance was not mandatory.
“MMSD is committed to holding students at the center, and counter to WILL’s narratives, this is an effort to provide a safe space for students to have conversations they feel they need, and not centered on what adults want,” the spokesman said in July.
The district offered a similar response to the latest allegations of racial segregation — but this time its statement comes with an apology. It is not clear, however, whether the high school will end its practice of separating students and families for difficult conversations on race.