‘It’s a personnel matter’: What’s next for controversial Madison school employees?


By M.D. Kittle |Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – It would appear Madison Metropolitan School District employee Debbie Hosking had some downright nasty things to say about Gov. Scott Walker’s sons and young nieces.

The district, however, has nothing to say publicly about Hosking’s apparent obscene comment on the governor’s Facebook page describing the children as “inbred (dumbasses).”

NO COMMENT: Officials in the Madison Metropolitan School District have nothing to say about apparent obscene comments made by a district employee on this Facebook photo of Gov. Scott Walker’s sons and nieces. They say they will not comment on a ‘personnel matter.’

“We do not comment on specific personnel issues,” district spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said in an email response to Wisconsin Reporter. That’s exactly what she told Right Wisconsin, the conservative news organization that reported the story Monday.

Strauch-Nelson also said this, word for word:

“I can tell you that in general we do have guidelines that we expect employees to follow regarding appropriate conduct on social media, when they are representing or associated with the district. In any case when those guidelines are not followed, we follow up and take appropriate action.”

The spokeswoman did not return two follow-up emails from Wisconsin Reporter asking what “appropriate action” would be in a case like this.

As Right Wisconsin points out, the district’s Standards of Conduct for Internet and school email usage prohibit staff from using “any form of obscene, harassing, racist, sexist or abusive language or behavior on-line.”

Violations of the procedures or rules result in “appropriate disciplinary action up to and including discharge,” the conduct policy states. The policy, however, refers to usage of the district’s integrated technology network, and there is no evidence to suggest the comments were made on the district’s system.

Hosking appears to have commented on a photo Walker posted of his two sons and two nieces, who were with the governor at his State of the State address last week.

“Who are these inbred dumbasses?” Hosking wrote on the page.

The nurse assistant could not be reached for comment Monday. Her listed Madison phone number was no longer in service.

Ed Hughes, Madison Metro school board president, also declined to comment on the matter.

Also not commenting is school board member Mary Burke. Burke, who is the Democratic candidate for governor, did not return an email from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.

Board member James Howard said he has “perfect confidence” that Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham would be “reviewing this matter and I suspect we’ll hear from her and get some leadership on this issue real soon.”

Asked whether the Facebook comment apparently made by Hosking, a nurse assistant at Sennett Middle School, was a violation of the district’s anti-bullying policy, Howard said he would have to think about that.

“It could be an employee who just made a stupid comment,” he said.

The policy in part defines bullying as, “Posting or sending mean-spirited messages about someone using phones, electronic mail, websites, blogs, etc. (also known as cyber-bullying).”

School districts often hide behind ‘personnel matters’ in failing to report possible employee misconduct, but Madison Metro in the past has been slow to respond to questionable behavior involving its educators – particularly when the behavior relates to politics.

As first reported by Wisconsin Reporter in September, Kati Walsh, an elementary art teacher in the district, published anti-Gov. Scott Walker political cartoons drawn by her kindergarten, first- and second-grade students. One drawing depicts Walker in jail, and another in which he appears to be in jail and engulfed in flames. Walsh said the orange in that drawing actually represented a prison jumpsuit.

Several months later, the district remains mum on whether there has been or will be any investigation or follow-up into the incident in Walsh’s classroom.

In October, Strauch-Nelson did not directly answer those questions from Wisconsin Reporter.

“Drawing is part of our elementary school art classes. In an art class, like in any class, when a controversial topic comes up, we have a policy that says that teachers should be mindful of the impact of their words and actions on students,” she said in an email at the time. “That does not mean that political topics won’t come up, but if they do, teachers should be careful to act as a moderator of those discussions, facilitating them in a way that allows for difference of opinion and critical thinking.

“We regularly remind employees of that policy, and we are confident our teachers handle these situations appropriately and professionally.”

Strauch-Nelson did not return Wisconsin Reporter emails Monday seeking an update. John Wallace, principal at Randall Elementary School, where Walsh taught last year, when reached for comment said he was in a meeting and promptly hung up.

If any investigation or other action were to be taken, the school board couldn’t talk about it anyway, Hughes told Wisconsin Reporter at the time.

“It’s a personnel matter,” Hughes said.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

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