Marlon Anderson poses for a photo Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 in Madison, Wis.
Steve Apps—AP
By Associated Press
October 18, 2019

(MADISON, Wis.) — A black security guard at a Wisconsin high school who was fired after he says he repeated a racial slur while telling a student who had called him that word not to use it has filed a grievance seeking his job back.

The Madison School District has a policy forbidding employees from saying racial slurs. But Marlon Anderson, 48, says he was just trying to defend himself after a disruptive student unleashed a number of obscenities on him, including that slur. West High Principal Karen Boran sent an email to families on Wednesday saying that racial slurs are not acceptable in schools, regardless of context or circumstance, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Anderson said he was responding to a call on Oct. 9 about a disruptive male student who was being escorted by an assistant principal at West High. Anderson said the situation escalated, with the student, who is also black, calling Anderson obscenities including the slur. Anderson said he told the student multiple times “do not call me that,” “do not call me that word,” and that he repeated the slur during the confrontation while telling the teen not to use it.

“We’re fighting this,” Anderson told the State Journal of his firing. The Madison teachers’ union filed a grievance with the district on his behalf. “I just don’t understand getting fired for trying to defend yourself,” said Anderson, who worked for the district for 11 years. “As a black man, I have a right not to be called that word.”

Cher tweeted Friday that if Anderson wants to sue the Madison school district, she will cover his expenses.

Students at West High skipped class Friday and marched through the streets of the state capital to protest Anderson’s firing. Scores of students walked out of class around 10 a.m. They walked to the Madison school district offices and marched laps around the building, chanting “Hey-hey, hey-ho, zero tolerance has got to go!” and “Do Better!”

Madison Police Department spokesman Joel DeSpain didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking an estimate on how many students took part.

During his time at East and West high schools, Anderson said he’s been called the slur by students “many times,” and that it has resulted in “restorative conversations” in which he explains the history, context and meaning of the slur.

Principal Boran said the zero-tolerance approach on the use of racial slurs “has been applied consistently and will continue to be applied consistently.”

“I also want to ask for your partnership as we work to make our school climate the very best it can be for all of our students and our staff,” she said.

The district school board president, Gloria Reyes, said in a statement Friday that she wants the board to review its policy on racial slurs as soon as possible. She said she also has directed district staff to handle Anderson’s grievance quickly. “This is an incredibly difficult situation, and we acknowledge the emotion, harm and complexity involved,” she said. “Many people in our community and our district are grappling with that complexity, and we will continue to do so as we go forward.”

Superintendent Jane Belmore issued her own statement saying the zero-tolerance policy is designed to protect students from harm, no matter what the circumstances or intent. But she added that “different viewpoints” from the community are emerging and the district will review the policy in light of Anderson’s grievance.

Last school year, there were at least seven cases in which a Madison School District staff member used a racial slur in front of students. All of those employees were either fired or resigned.

It’s not known whether the student faces disciplinary action.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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