In response to open records requests by the Wisconsin State Journal, the Madison School District finally gave the public its own information. Or at least some of it.
In September the District fired new Sennett Middle School Principal Jeffrey Copeland only a few weeks into his job. The backlash from parents and staff was strong. Dozens of people showed up at a School Board meeting this fall to plead with the Board to reinstate Copeland. They said that during his brief tenure order and safety had been restored.
But nobody would say why Copeland had been ousted in the first place. Now, finally, because the Journal stayed on the story we know. Well, sort of. The District released his dismissal letter and what I suppose they thought was the smoking gun, a voice mail recording left on the phone of a job applicant. It’s still kind of hazy, but apparently what happened was that Copeland called the applicant and left a message and then forgot to hang up. He then engages in a conversation with a staff member in which he apparently vents about the quality of applicants.
He is heard saying that a job candidate from the Dominican Republic “could barely communicate with me” and that “they’re just giving people damn jobs.”
The assumption is that that the candidate was Black, as is Copeland, but Copeland makes no reference to race, but rather to the candidate’s communications skills. I’ll just note here in passing that traditionalists believe that the ability to communicate is an important skill for a teacher.
According to the Journal story, Angie Hicks, district chief of secondary schools, said in her termination letter to Copeland, “Your actions were unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Your behavior goes against the (district) vision of creating an anti-racist school culture and curriculum.”
To which I think I can safely say that I share a widespread reaction among Madisonians: Huh?
Again, we could use a whole lot more context here and it would be useful if Copeland would speak to reporters to clarity just exactly what was going on. But from what’s currently on the record it looks as if Copeland believed that his teachers should have strong English language skills and he felt the District was hiring teachers without those skills, perhaps to meet diversity goals.
Here are a few questions that spring to mind from a writer who is against racism but not necessarily on board with the whole “anti-racist” thing. First, how are students of color served by teachers who struggle to communicate ideas clearly? Second, how are those students served by a chaotic and sometimes even dangerous environment? Third, wouldn’t a principal who was insisting on teachers with strong language skills and on orderly and safe classrooms be serving those students better than anyone?
The story will go on. Copeland is fighting to get his job back and so there will be more proceedings along those lines in which, I hope, more questions will be answered. But from what we know now this looks like yet another mess the Madison School District has gotten itself into because of its obsession with graduate level anti-racist theories as opposed to dealing head on with the real racial unfairness on the ground.
And with that, have a good weekend, folks.