MPS teacher voices safety, culture concerns: 'Serious need of repair'

A Milwaukee Public Schools teacher said the district isn't doing enough to protect students, faculty and staff, sharing her story Tuesday, Jan. 10 before a committee meeting on community engagement.

Two months ago, Angela Harris was outside her school on bus duty when police say a parent assaulted her. Harris, who is on leave, suffered a torn shoulder muscle and sprained neck. She said the district must do more to prioritize safety, and it starts with a culture change.

"I don't want what happened to me to happen to any other teacher, and the only way that we're going to stop this from happening is by addressing the culture, climate and safety that exists within our MPS schools," Harris said.

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Harris teaches first grade at King School and is chair of the Black Educators Caucus, a caucus within the Milwaukee teachers union. She said MPS is failing students, faculty and staff simply by not keeping them safe.

"If I can't feel safe in my classroom, or in my school, how can I be an effective teacher?" said Harris.

Harris said 15 MPS students died due to gun violence in 2022, and cited issues such as reckless driving. She said a community problem is entering the classroom, so she took her concerns to Tuesday's meeting.

"We believe that the health of Milwaukee Public Schools is in serious need of repair," she said.

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Harris said the solution isn't traditional punishment. At the meeting, the district's discipline manager provided a monthly update on student behavior metrics. While suspensions are down, MPS data shows Black students have received 81% of them – despite making up just half of the school district's population.

"When children, number one, have the social and emotional skills that they need to work through problems, they're less likely to commit those behavior issues," said Harris.

In response to Harris' comments, MPS said in a statement:

"MPS works diligently to provide an environment that is safe and welcoming for all. We have policies in place to address safety concerns and we work proactively to improve the culture, climate and safety of our schools every day.

  • MPS works directly with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure all schools are safe. Each year, every MPS schools perform safety drills and submits their emergency plans for approval to the Board of School Directors. After review, these plans are forwarded to the DOJ.
  • On a daily basis, plans are in place to address a variety of situations; these plans are supported by approximately 220 school safety assistants who work in our buildings.
  • Our Department of Student Services meets yearly with students, staff and community members to discuss and modify our Parent/Student Handbook on Rights, Responsibilities and Discipline.  
  • As a result of a Board Resolution passed in December 2022, MPS has hired a company that will conduct comprehensive safety assessments of all MPS buildings in 2023.  

"A statement shared by the Black Educators Caucus stating that ten years have passed since MPS has asked for public feedback about climate and safety is patently untrue. MPS provides regular opportunities to receive feedback from students, staff, families and members of the community. We are working on new initiatives for the near future.

  • Each month, the Board of School Directors Committee on Parent and Community Engagement (PACE) meets. Four times per year, MPS holds Community Conversations to hear directly from residents about the issues that are affecting them and to learn how we can better serve our students. Our next Community Conversation will be held Wednesday, January 11. Anyone who wants to attend can register online to take part and offer opinions and suggestions.
  • Each year, a School Culture and Climate Survey is conducted to help create schools that feel safe and welcoming to students, families and staff.
  • Additionally, MPS is engaged in a strategic planning process to receive additional feedback from students, staff, families and members of the community to help the district set its priorities over the next five years. All city of Milwaukee residents will be invited to share their feedback with the district. More information about this process will be released next week.  

"We continue our efforts to meet the needs of all through education, programs and opportunities for every family within MPS.  This work continues each day through the efforts of our educators to provide the best environment for all students."