Madison School District Pays Punitive Damages and Commits to Significant Public Records Reform

District also Disavows Racially Discriminatory Policy to“Prioritize your African American Students”

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) has settled a landmark open records lawsuit with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), securing thousands of dollars in punitive damages and reforms to how the school district processes open records. This is a major victory for government transparency and the equal treatment of all students in Wisconsin. WILL was represented by the Wisconsin Transparency Project.

The Quotes: Dan Lennington, WILL Deputy Counsel, stated, “A whistleblower notifed us in early 2022 that MMSD had a racially discriminatory policy of treating black students more favorably than students of other races. MMSD stonewalled for over a year. Now they’ve paid the price, disavowed the policy, and committed to significant reforms. This is a huge victory for transparency.”

Cory Brewer, WILL Associate Counsel, added, “Institutions funded by taxpayers cannot ignore members of the public who seek answers. WILL is prepared to hold school districts accountable for their actions—our lawsuits reflect that.”

Details of the Agreement: MMSD will pay $18,000, including $7,386 in attorney fees and court costs and the remainder in punitive damages. Because of the litigation, MMSD has agreed to take the following additional steps:

  1. MMSD officials will meet with public-records clerks from the Milwaukee Public Schools to find ways to improve MMSD’s system. In WILL’s view, MPS’s public-records system is superior to MMSD’s and this consultation should result in additional improvements.
  2. MMSD has implemented a new e-discovery system to manage public-records requests.
  3. MMSD has agreed to post a list of active and closed public records requests to improve transparency and accountability.
  4. MMSD has hired additional staff, including an attorney, to reduce the current backlog of public-records requests.
  5. And as stated above, MMSD disavows a document apparently requiring teachers to “meet with your African American students first and more often.” In a letter to counsel, MMSD claimed that the document, which appeared to be an official policy or directive, was limited to a single elementary school and “the principal involved has been advised of her misunderstanding.” In other words, MMSD acknowledges that teachers are not permitted to discriminate based on race and that MMSD should not have a policy, directive, or guidance suggesting as much.

Underlying Controversy: WILL’s original records request stemmed from a school policy that stated teachers should “meet with your African American students first and more often.” MMSD has also disavowed that policy, stating it was unsanctioned action of the school principal.

Read More:

Dan Lennington

Dan Lennington

Deputy Counsel

Cory Brewer

Cory Brewer

Education Counsel

Share This