The Madison, Wisconsin school district recently settled a public-records lawsuit, claiming that a directive to prioritize meetings with students based on race was not an official district policy but was confined to one elementary school. This information was disclosed to the conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which had sued the Madison Metropolitan School District.

In a letter to WILL, the district stated that the principal involved had been informed of her misunderstanding, according to a press release from the group.

WILL initiated the lawsuit in January, alleging that the district withheld records about the policy for over a year. On Monday, WILL reported that the district had met the request and agreed to reforms concerning its public-records process.

The issue came to WILL’s attention in January 2022 when several district employees informed WILL lawyer Daniel Lennington that teachers were being directed to prioritize meetings with black students and English language learners. A screenshot was provided, allegedly showing the policy regarding small instructional groups for reading, foundational skills, and math.

The screen grab outlined an “equity vision” and a dedication to “black excellence,” instructing teachers to prioritize meetings with African American students first and English Language learners second.

Lennington requested the complete policy and other records from the district on January 31, 2022, and followed up five more times without receiving a response. WILL noted that they often had to wait extended periods for records from the Madison district, something also reported by local media.

As part of the settlement agreement, Madison district officials must consult with public-records clerks from Milwaukee Public Schools to enhance their records system. WILL praised MPS’s public-records system, hoping that the consultation would lead to improvements.

Additionally, the Madison district has implemented a new electronic system for managing records requests, pledged to post a list of active and closed records requests online for greater transparency, and hired extra staff to alleviate the current backlog.

The district also consented to pay $18,000 in attorney fees and punitive damages, as reported by WILL.

Lennington described the settlement as a “huge victory for transparency,” highlighting that the district has now disavowed the policy and committed to substantial reforms after a whistleblower alerted them to the racially discriminatory policy and a year-long stonewalling effort by the district.

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