On April 12, 2023 Dr. Jill Underly, State Superintendent of Schools, sent a letter to Dr. James Sebert and the School District of Waukesha (SDW) admonishing them for their recent actions in regard to issues of diversity and inclusion within the district. The Alliance for Education in Waukesha (AEW) would like to commend Dr. Underly for her letter and her involvement. At the same time, AEW would like to respond to comments made by Dr. Sebert and local legislative leaders in their answers to Dr. Underly’s letter.
In his response to Dr. Underly, Dr. Sebert refers to the Alliance for Education in Waukesha as an “advocacy group.” What Dr. Sebert fails to mention is that this “advocacy group” is a grassroots group of local parents who are concerned about our children, our neighbors, and the current state of Waukesha schools. As a whole, AEW parents are involved in their children’s schools and school communities in Waukesha. AEW receives no national funding or backing from organizations.
AEW has three main goals, which are to:
- Support a safe and productive learning environment for all Waukesha students
- Foster a collaborative and constructive work environment for all Waukesha teachers and staff
- Create a space for civil discourse regarding education in Waukesha
What we seek through AEW is to create welcoming and inclusive schools that are safe for all students. As Dr. Sebert pointed out, Waukesha is a large and diverse district. Yet, Dr. Sebert and the Board of Education continue to cater to a national agenda perpetuated by extremists and right wing groups. When as parents, we ask them to be accountable, they refuse to come to the table to discuss their motivations transparently. They prefer to play the victim and blame AEW for the media attention brought about by their own actions.
In the response to Dr. Underly’s letter, the legislative leaders say they are “proud of our school district and its actions, because they did what was best for its students and in line with what the parents of the district wanted.” This Is a gross misrepresentation of the situation in Waukesha over the past three years. As Dr. Underly points out, placing a teacher on administrative leave does nothing to further a culture of acceptance, and it does nothing to improve academic achievement for those students who have now faced an entire month of interrupted learning without their teacher. It is the exact opposite of “what is best for its students.” Given the number of parents who have spoken out, emailed, called or attended board meetings, the district leadership’s actions are clearly not in line with what the vast majority of district parents want.
High quality educators have left, and will continue to leave the district because of these discriminatory policies and practices, and some students will continue to fall behind. Dr. Sebert and the School Board need to start listening to parents on all sides of the issues and working with all families of the school district, not just those that agree with them. They need to review policies and practices that silence students and educators. Until this happens, AEW will continue to speak and advocate on behalf of all children and the entire school community.