A black high school security guard, who was terminated for using a racial slur while speaking to a student, said he never should have been fired from his job. When the school district argued that it was simply following its zero-tolerance policy, the former employee made an emotional plea, asking the district to change the rules.
Marlon Anderson, an African-American security guard for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) in Madison, Wisconsin, was working at West High School when an encounter with a student cost him his job. After Anderson used the N-word that fateful Wednesday, he was terminated due to the district’s strict zero-tolerance policy, but he’s adamant that he shouldn’t have been fired over the racial slur.
After several incidents involving staff members using racial slurs in front of students occurred over the previous year, the school adopted a zero-tolerance policy. Anderson, however, maintains that his case is different because he was actually asking the student to stop using the term. In other words, the security guard only repeated the word back to the student, telling them not to use it again.
Frustrated about losing his job, Marlon Anderson took to social media to explain his side of the story. Saying the student called him a b*tch *ss ni**a, Anderson wrote, “I responded do ‘not call me ni**a!'” With the zero-tolerance policy in place, the man lost his job. “I got fired,” Anderson’s Facebook post continued. “MMSD I, unfortunately, expected better.”
According to Anderson, the student was refusing to leave school and pushed the principal, Channel 3000 reported. As the school’s security guard, Anderson stepped in to help and the student began hurling expletives at him, including the N-word. Anderson says the student used the racial slur at least 15 times during the encounter, causing him to call it out directly. “I made a conscious decision to address the word because it is an epidemic,” Anderson said. “Our kids use it every day.”
Anderson, who worked for the district for 11 years – the last three as a security guard at West High, decided to file a grievance. In his emotional plea, he begged MMSD to change their policy and consider the context in which a racial slur is used. “You have no tolerance for a word, but yet you let students call me that word 15 times without correcting that behavior,” Anderson said, adding that no other staff member tried to stop the student from calling him the slur, which was his sole intention behind using the word that got him fired.
Arguing that context is everything, Anderson called MMSD’s policy lazy. “I want the zero-tolerance policy to be looked at. It’s lazy,” he said. “My mother was called this word. My father was called this word, my grandmother, my grandfather — and keep going down the family line. We were all called this word, and not one of them could say, ‘Don’t call me that.’ I can. And, I shouldn’t be punished, because I have the right to tell somebody not to call me this word.”
Support has poured in for Marlon Anderson on social media, and it has meant a lot to Anderson, who says he’s used the power of words to lift students up. “I always say things like, ‘You’re the best,’ ‘You’re the greatest,’ ‘You this and you that,’ ‘You can conquer the world,'” he said. “That’s part of my passion. I love kids,” he added. “I feel like I was successful in relaying a message that I love you and I want you to be the best,” he said. “Regardless of whatever the future this holds for me with the MMSD, I touched a lot of kids.”
West High School’s Black Student Union and other students also rallied behind him. The day after he lost his job, the Black Student Union held a meeting with other students to talk about the incident and discuss steps to support Anderson. The day after the meeting, students participated in a walkout in protest of the security guard’s termination, Channel 3000 reported in a follow-up story.
LIVE: West High School students are walking out of school today in protest of a security guard's termination.Background: https://bit.ly/31qr5QA
Posted by News 3 Now / Channel 3000 on Friday, October 18, 2019
Due to the attention Anderson’s termination received, MMSD’s education board said it will reexamine the policies. Although MMSD didn’t answer direct questions about the incident, Board of Education President Gloria Reyes requested the item be placed on the board agenda. While Reyes admitted that they’ve taken a tough stance on racial slurs and believe they have no place in schools, in a statement on the ordeal, she wrote, “We have also heard from the community about the complexity involved – and (it’s) our duty to examine it.”
This incident reminds us that black and white, “zero-tolerance” rules do not allow for the use of discretion on a case by case basis involving complex circumstances. That not only seems lazy but also like a cowardly attempt to take the pressure off of anyone responsible for making decisions in tough situations. What’s more, what example does this set for problem students? They can disrespect authority, and it will be those authority figures who pay the price. That’s not what’s best for anyone involved.