A Wisconsin school security assistant will be rehired after he was terminated last week for repeating a racist slur while telling a student not to use it, union officials said, following days of public outcry and protests by students and teachers.
The security assistant, Marlon Anderson, was fired after he said the slur during an exchange with a student on Oct. 9 at West High School in Madison. The student directed the slur at Mr. Anderson and Mr. Anderson repeated it while trying to explain why the slur was offensive. Both Mr. Anderson and the student are black.
On Monday afternoon, officials at the school district called the union representing Mr. Anderson, Madison Teachers Inc., to say his firing would be rescinded and that he would be placed on paid leave, said Doug Keillor, executive director of the union. Mr. Keillor said that the district is working on a transition plan on “how best to reintroduce” Mr. Anderson to the school.
The school district’s reversal came on the same day that Gloria Reyes, the school board president of the Madison Metropolitan School District, released a statement saying that Mr. Anderson’s termination should be rescinded.
Students staged a walkout last week over Mr. Anderson’s firing, as the case sparked outrage nationwide. In a tweet on Friday, the artist Cher offered to pay for Mr. Anderson’s legal expenses, should he choose to sue the school district. Arne Duncan, a former United States education secretary, said on Twitter that the school district needed to “grow a brain and a heart.”
Mr. Anderson said in an interview Monday that he was happy to hear the news of his rehiring.
“I’m excited to get back to work,” Mr. Anderson said. “But the work isn’t done, because there’s still a lot that needs to be done in our district. This happened to me, it will happen again if we don’t change some of these policies.”
In response to questions about Mr. Anderson’s rehiring and Ms. Reyes’s statement, a school district spokeswoman shared a letter on Monday that the interim superintendent, Jane Belmore, sent to school district staff.
“I am prepared to take appropriate steps in the current situation, and I will begin to work with our administrative team to ensure that we mitigate any harm that was caused and begin the healing process and give the board time to review our practice,” Dr. Belmore said in the letter.
Dr. Belmore could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday evening.
The school district cited a zero-tolerance policy on the use of racial slurs by school staff when it fired Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson said there should be more nuance to the policy.
“One of the many problems with the zero-tolerance policy, it takes away a teaching moment,” Mr. Anderson said. “If there’s an opportunity to have a teaching moment at a school, you’ve got to take it.”
The district is now reviewing its policies.
“In our commitment to tackle anti-racism we have created universal practices using the non-discrimination policy to protect those who are most impacted by racial slurs,” Ms. Reyes said in the statement Monday. “This is an opportunity for the board to review the policies and practices that are currently being used and dive deep into the issues of racism in our schools.”
Mr. Anderson worked at West High School for three years and before that, at East High School in Madison for eight years. He said the episode started when an assistant principal radioed for help with a disruptive student.
The student, a 17-year-old senior, had taken another student’s cellphone, according to Mr. Anderson.
As Mr. Anderson tried to escort the student out of the building, he said, the student taunted him with the racial slur about 15 times. He said he told the student to stop using the slur, which he himself repeated several times.
That’s when he said the assistant principal turned on the microphone of her walkie-talkie, and Mr. Anderson could be overheard by other administrators and members of the security staff.
On Wednesday, Mr. Anderson was fired, Mr. Keillor said.
Mr. Keillor said the union had called the school district on Monday morning urging them to quickly reverse Mr. Anderson’s termination.
“It’s incredibly rare for a district to take this sort of action and then, within a week, rescind the action that they took,” Mr. Keillor said.