A longtime Madison, WI Metropolitan School District educator has been placed on leave and is under both school district and police investigation after allegedly pushing, punching and pulling hair out of the head of an African American 11-year-old girl at Whitehorse Middle School last week.
The girl’s mother, Mikiea Price, said she has seen security video of the February 13 incident, which she said shows Rob Mueller-Owens, 52, throwing her daughter to the ground and punching her before another teacher covers the girl with her own body to protect her.
“As a District we take any situation of this nature very seriously,” MMSD Representative Rachel Strauch-Nelson said in a statement. “All of our students need to be safe and supported in school, and we have a thorough investigation process and protocol that we follow. While we cannot talk about the details of a specific student or personnel situation, it is our responsibility to consider all of the facts of the situation and determine the right next steps.
“The staff person was put on leave while the situation was investigated. Based on that investigation, the staff person will not return to Whitehorse Middle School, and we are determining next steps. In addition, our team is coming together to create a full support plan to ensure that students are safe and fully supported at school.”
Mueller-Owens is the seventh educator to be caught up in racial incidents at Madison schools since November 1. Four teachers and two substitutes have been terminated or forced to resign after using racial slurs in class over the last three and a half months. Additionally, in Middleton, a school bus driver was terminated last fall for striking a black child and a high school teacher resigned after using a racial slur in class.
Price, herself a substitute teacher in the district for the past five years, told Madison365 in an exclusive interview that her daughter, a sixth-grader at Whitehorse Middle School, called her last Wednesday and was clearly upset.
“She was just like … crying and extremely upset,” Price said. “I could tell, like by the way she was crying and talking, that something traumatic had just happened.” She said her daughter told her, “Mr. Rob hurt me,” referring to Mueller-Owens.
Price said she immediately went to the school where three adults were speaking with her daughter about what had happened.
“She was crying and her lip was cracked, bleeding, and she handed me three of her braids that were pulled out from her scalp,” Price said.
Price said a classroom teacher had called on Mueller-Owens, who is dean of students and was acting principal that day, because Price’s daughter and another student had sprayed too much perfume or body spray on themselves and each other. When Mueller-Owens asked the girl to leave the room, she initially refused, and things apparently escalated.
“When he came in, he asked (my daughter) to step out and she didn’t listen, and didn’t step out and as he walked toward her, she said she went toward the window and just wasn’t following direction, and he told her in front of the whole class, to the teacher, ‘Take the class somewhere else,’” Price said. “And (my daughter) said, ‘No, that’s fine. They can stay, I’ll go.’ And as she was heading out, she said he pushed (her) with two hands trying to push her out the classroom, and she turned around and said, ‘Don’t put your hands on me.’ And he pushed her again … and she said he started punching her.”
She said the video, which she reviewed on Friday along with her mother, as well as Pastor Marcus Allen of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Urban League of Greater Madison CEO Ruben Anthony, did not capture what happened in the classroom but does show what happened in the hallway.
“I didn’t see the punching but on the actual video that I was able to review on Friday from the school district, I did see him throwing her down,” Price said. “And you see another teacher that I also spoke with that said that she had to lay on top of (my daughter) to prevent her from getting hit or punched.”
Strauch-Nelson said the school district intends to release the video later this week, after police conclude their investigation.