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Will zero tolerance pay off?

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 1, 2019

MADISON — Could the Madison Metropolitan School District find itself in a legal bind now that its zero tolerance (zero intelligence) policy has been exposed as problematic?

Another staff member disciplined under the policy for using racial slurs is appealing her punishment. 

As Wisconsin Public Radio reported, Sandra Rivera, a social worker at Nuestro Mundo Community School, said that during a conversation with staff about how to handle situations where students use racial slurs, she quoted a student who used the N-word.

“Another member of the team was surprised to hear that our students did that and I shared a recent example that I had witnessed,” Rivera said. “In wanting to be clear, I quoted the student and said the N-word, out loud and in its entirety.”

She received a disciplinary suspension on her record but didn’t lose wages or her job — unlike Marlon Anderson, the West High School security guard the district fired for telling a disorderly black student to stop using the N-word. Anderson, who also is black, repeated the slur. 

He was instantly fired under a wrong-headed liberal policy unequipped to deal with context. 

The district did rehire Anderson, after being pummeled by negative national attention and a flood of complaints from district residents. Some 1,500 people, many of them students, protested Anderson’s firing. 

Now district officials are looking to amend the zero tolerance policy, to “account for appropriate nuances.”

The question enterprizing attorneys and others subjected to the zero tolerance policy will ask is, has the district opened itself up to lawsuits? Anderson, rightly, got his job back. What about others who meant no malice but faced strict disciplinary measures?

Time will tell if the Madison schools’ zero tolerance policy will create a slippery slope, but make no mistake. The lawyers are watching. 

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