From University School of Milwaukee Head of School Steve Hancock:
Dear University School of Milwaukee Community,
I write to provide some additional information and context regarding the lawsuit recently brought against USM by a former school family and related comments they have made through the media.
Contrary to what has been alleged, our decision to non-renew this family’s children was based entirely on the parents’ decision to repeatedly engage in disrespectful, demanding, and bullying conduct toward and relating to our teachers and administrators. In doing so, the parents deprived our teachers and administrators of the physically and emotionally safe environment set forth in our mission and guiding principles, and blatantly disregarded both our Common Trust pledge and our Parent-School Partnership. Such conduct—which threatens the collaborative and respectful partnerships upon which our community is built—cannot be tolerated.
As part of their media campaign, the family has badly mischaracterized three worksheets used last year in some of our 5th grade classrooms. In the interest of full transparency, I encourage you to look at these worksheets. The first worksheet (linked here) was a Thanksgiving word search used in one classroom. Students were asked to find and circle various words, including the word “plantation.” The second (linked here) and third (linked here) worksheets were used during icebreaker activities in various classrooms that followed the winter and spring breaks. Students were asked to find classmates who had engaged in various activities during their breaks—such as “played sports,” “watched a movie,” and “visited another state.” When concerns about the content of these worksheets were raised by the family, we took these concerns very seriously, and engaged with them to better understand their thinking. Ultimately, we did not find the material to be of concern, and shared this directly with the family.
Much has also been made of a simulation that was long ago part of our 4th grade social studies curriculum addressing Wisconsin’s role in the Civil War and, specifically, the Underground Railroad. Many claims and purported descriptions regarding this simulation made in the lawsuit and in the media are completely inaccurate. The simulation ended more than ten years ago—long before the family’s students began their enrollment at the school. During it, 4th grade students moved throughout parts of the school to stations where teachers and parent volunteers served in the roles of Underground Railroad conductors, providing guidance on routes to the next “safe place” stations. Subsequent classroom lessons focused on the importance of Wisconsin’s role in the Underground Railroad, which was instrumental in helping enslaved people travel to freedom in Canada.
As we did then, we will continue to evaluate and evolve our curriculum in a way that is culturally responsive and respectful.
USM is fully prepared to vigorously defend itself against the allegations made in the family’s lawsuit, as well as misinformation this family has spread in the media. I reiterate my previous statement that non-renewing the enrollment of a school family is a last-resort option, but one that needed to be taken in this particular situation—not because of any actions of the students, but because of the actions of the parents.
I will continue to listen, and learn, and want to reassure ALL families that proactively bringing forward concerns is welcome and will never result in retaliation. I look forward to continuing our partnership.
This message has been shared with all members of our community, including current and prospective families, alumni and parents of alumni, and our faculty, staff, and trustees. Click here to read the message that was sent to the USM community on Tuesday, April 19.