Racial tensions have boiled over in a Wisconsin community after a fourth grade teacher included a lesson on Black Lives Matter in a Burlington elementary school classroom in August.
The teacher, Melissa Statz, wanted to discuss racism and justice with her students, but did not expect to have the conversation so early on in the year.
“I didn’t expect it to be the first week of school. But it was right after Jacob Blake was shot, and the kids were talking about it. They’d seen the boarded-up buildings. … They were asking questions,” Statz told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Since the lesson, racial slurs have been burned into woodchips on the playground, painted on the floor of the school building, and shouted during an online class.
Statz discussed with students how the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin contributed to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
She said the students were angered by the injustices discussed and readily engaged in the conversation.
“They had so much to say … such wonderful perspectives about what’s right and wrong,” Staz said.
In the town of Burlington, where less than 2 percent of the population is Black and roughly 40 of the 3,000 students in the school district are Black, the message was not as accepted by the broader community.
It only took a few hours for reactions to the lesson to surface on social media. Someone posted an image of one of the worksheets from the discussion with the word “no” written across it on a Facebook page. The person also asserted that Statz was “indoctrinating” students.
The page, which was initially a buy-sell-trade community turned into a group called “Parents Against Rogue Teachers.”
“It blew up immediately. By the time I saw it, there were 500 comments already. And there were a lot of nasty things,” she said. “I read for a few minutes and I had to get off. It was discouraging to see people in the community saying these things.”
Statz was called “human garbage” and a “thug” in comments and messages, and a picture of her with her children was also posted online.
The family installed motion sensor lights and door alarms for their home as a precaution.
In September and October, in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter discussion, a series of race-related incidents occurred at the school. The N-word was burned into woodchips on the playground two weeks before it was painted on the floor of a school building. An unknown individual also entered a online Zoom class and made racist comments.
School board member Taylor Wishau described Statz as a “rogue” teacher and said she would be “dealt with” by the district. Wishau also wore a Thin Blue Line, pro-police mask at a school board meeting on Nov. 9.
Statz said she was told that she was mentally abusing children and that she should no longer be allowed to teach.
The Sentinel reached out to Adrianne Melby the Facebook page administrator where offensive comments were made about Statz, who would not provide a comment about the situation, but sent a message saying the name of the page had been changed to “Informed, Involved Parents & Community Members for Change.”
She said the group supports the creation of an anti-racist policy in the district.