Dicken Principal Mike Madison Will Not Be Disciplined for Black-Only Field Trip, Report Indicates

David Jesse, annarbor.com, August 17, 2010

Ann Arbor elementary school Principal Mike Madison will not be disciplined for starting a Lunch Bunch study group open only to black students, despite repeated findings that the group broke district policy and state law.

Those were among the results of the district’s investigation into the group, which sparked controversy after Madison took more than 30 black students on a field trip this spring and left non-black students behind. The three-page investigative report was obtained by AnnArbor.com on Monday through the Freedom of Information Act.

“Mr. Madison’s desire to address the achievement gap at Dicken School is commended; the manner in which he went about doing so with respect to configuring the lunch group and subsequent field trip was not appropriate,” Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, the district’s administrator for elementary education, wrote in the memo. “Such decision-making was not responsible and should not be repeated. ”

{snip}

The incident

On April 28, a group of 30 black Dicken students went on a field trip to visit University of Michigan scientist Alec Gallimore.

The students who went on the trip were members of the Lunch Bunch, which started in January and was open to black students in grades three through five.

When the students got back to school following their field trip, they joined their classmates in a vocal music class. When they entered, they were greeted by booing.

Madison, who is black, came to teacher Ken Monash’s fifth-grade class the next day to discuss the incident.

“Mr. Madison reprimanded the students in Mr. Monash’s fifth-grade classroom the following day for the booing behavior,” the report says. “A discussion followed between Mr. Madison and the fifth grade students regarding racial bias and societal injustice, Mr. Madison’s personal experiences of racial profiling, and discriminatory behaviors such as booing. Students became upset and reported these events/discussion to their parents.”

Exactly what was said in the class is a big part of the controversy that erupted among parents.

“There is some question whether the booing was the manifestation of student envy, racial bias towards the African American students who participated in the field trip, concern by the students that the music class was again crowded with the increased number of students returning from the trips and/or because this class has in the past ‘booed’ as a demonstration of displeasure,” Dickinson Kelley wrote. “Regardless, the students interpreted the booing behavior and Mr. Madison as a slight towards African American students by their Caucasian peers.

“Mr. Madison engaged the students in what he characterized as a ‘courageous’ conversation about race and racial profiling. This exchange caused some students to become upset with other students while others felt the conversation was personally accusatory. Mr. Madison’s tone was described as passionate and intense by some and as yelling by others. Some students became clearly upset–crying–and felt singled out. Mr. Madison sought out the school psychologist following the conversation to help calm individual classmates.”

Madison also took one student out of the class, into the hallway and ultimately outside the outer school doors to talk to him about the incident.

The fallout

Following the meeting with Madison and the class, numerous parents expressed concern to Madison and various school district administrators about both his actions in the classroom and the trip.

The story was reported by AnnArbor.com and the picked up by regional and national media, creating intense scrutiny on the district.

In the days that followed, the district ended the Lunch Bunch program and held parent meetings at the school.

On May 12, the school board issued a statement saying the program violated state law and the district’s own anti-discrimination policy.

The investigation’s findings

Dickinson Kelley was critical of Madison’s actions in several instances in the report, but also said repeatedly that his intent was good.

“While there is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Madison knowingly and intentionally violated the District’s Non discrimination Policy #2050 and Article I, Section 26 of the State Constitution, his actions did indeed do so,” she wrote. {snip}

“. . . principals as educational leaders are expected to lead by example; at no time should any teacher or principal engage students in an extended conversation by yelling or with an intimidating tone. Furthermore, while discussions about culture and race can be very healthy and lead to a greater sense of understanding and tolerance, the students in Mr. Monash’s classroom were unprepared for such an intense and intensely personal conversation given the context of the ‘field trip’ events. Mr. Madison should have used better professional judgment and engaged in a developmentally appropriate conversation with the fifth grade students without the context of anger and personal references.”

The report also criticized Madison’s poor judgment for taking the student outside the outer school doors instead using a closed classroom to continue the discussion, which “caused the student and student’s parents grave concern.” According to the report, upon hindsight, Madison agreed he should have taken the student to his office instead.

“In closing, it is expected that Mr. Madison appreciate the degree to which his actions exposed the school district to potential illegalities, diverted precious district resources–personnel and community goodwill–during the last critical month of the school year, exposed the school district to local, national and international criticism, focused undeserved scrutiny of the Pacific Group’s Educational Program, and impacted Dicken School families, staff and students,'” the report says. “It is expected that no such actions or lack of judgment will occur again. . . . And while racial injustice remains a pernicious and nefarious assault on our society, a condition that impacts the lives of students every day, the degree to which we directly involve our youngest students in these conversations must be done with regard for developmental readiness and with great care.”

[Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley’s memorandum of July 19, 2010, on this matter can be downloaded as a PDF file here. Other stories on this matter are listed here.]

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