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UPDATE: District scrambles as Hmong leaders accuse Wausau East Band director of racist remarks
Hmong leaders allege Rob Perkins used racist, sexist and homophobic slurs against students and called out the school district's response
See The Wausonian’s latest story on Rob Perkins Wausau East Band Teacher situation after receiving a number of records related to this story.
UPDATE: Shortly after posting this story, a reader sent in a copy of the investigation’s conclusions. The update has been added to the bottom of the story.
Members of the media received an odd press release Wednesday afternoon. Odd because it frankly begged more questions than answers.
The press release basically said that a couple of weeks ago, the district received a complaint from a student about Wausau East band director Rob Perkins; something about making a student uncomfortable. The district investigated, it said in the release, and the investigation revealed an “education opportunity.”
It then explained that Perkins would be returning to the band room. A letter to Wausau East parents obtained by The Wausonian further detailed that Perkins would return Thursday.
The district went on to say it would be bringing in a consultant to “better understand and improve the experiences our students and staff are having in our schools.”
Not much to go on. The press release essentially amounted to “A thing happened, we looked into it, we’re bringing in a consultant, no further questions.”
So it might not come as a surprise when a scathing letter from a number of area Hmong leaders called out the district for a lack of transparency before filling in some of the details.
According to the letter, Perkins did more than make a student “uncomfortable,” as the press release put it:
We are outraged at the recent determination made by the Wausau School District (WSD) regarding Mr. Robert Perkins’ racist, sexist, and homophobic conduct and the decision to reinstate him back into the classroom. In order to create a learning environment that is supportive of all our students, it is imperative that we hold Mr. Perkins and the school district accountable.
The letter gives specific examples, which I won’t print here but start with a “c” and directed at Asian students.
According to the letter, which was signed by former school board member and city council member Mary Thao, County Board Member and Hmong American Center Director Yee Leng Xiong, and other Hmong leaders including Maysee Herr, Mang Xiong and Sheng Elizabeth Lor, Perkins displayed a pattern of behavior over months using that kind of language.
That stands in stark contrast to the district’s already vague description of events, which seemed to indicate they were responsing to an isolated incident. “The investigation has revealed a disturbing pattern in Mr. Perkins misconduct and we must put an end to these insidious recurrences,” the letter reads.
The letter came through to media members at 11:34 am Thursday. By 1 pm that day, the district had called a press conference.
Hilts read a statement in the Longfellow Administration Building board room, not directly addressing the letter by name or mentioning anything specific about the situation. It’s frankly hard to summarize but the basic message is sometimes people screw up but sometimes they need to be given a chance to redeem themselves and learn from it. “When appropriate, a preferred path is to use the situation to grow from. That is our path,” Hilts said, reading from a prepared statement.
It didn’t address the statement put out by the Hmong leaders, but when I asked (after being told there would be no questions) 1 Hilts told me that statement basically was their response. When I asked about how the investigation was conducted exactly, he told me there were a lot of interviews, so they have a pretty good idea what happened.
The district’s statement is full of platitudes and vagueness. The statement from Hmong leaders is full of specifics. And, Hilts didn’t answer my question about if the statement was accurate or not. In a sense, he responded to the statement, but didn’t really acknowledge it or react to it.
The statement from Hmong leaders also makes reference to the investigation itself, which seems to indicate that the writers of that statement had some kind of knowledge of it. 2 “The investigation has revealed a disturbing pattern in Mr. Perkins [sic] misconduct and we must put an end to these insidious recurrences,” the statement reads. According to the statement, the mother of the student who lodged the complaint works as a school counselor.
The district did not specify the nature of the consultant it ordered. A good bet is that it is some kind of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity consultant, based on the allegations in the statement.
The Wausonian will be keeping an eye out any consultants being hired. The type of consultant hired will be very telling.
An update after the initial post
Shortly after publishing the above story, a reader sent in a copy of the written conclusion of the investigation. According to the two-page report, it found that Perkins used humor in his classroom that could be “racial or sexist in nature,” but that he creates a “safe space” for students.
The conclusions found that he did not engage in “harassing or discriminating language,”: but did engage in “insensitive and unprofessional conduct.” He used did use language that “could be considered insensitive to students of protected classes such as race or class but it didn’t rise to the level of discrimination or harassment.”
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The District’s PR person mentioned to other media that Hilts would be taking no question. Of four reporters in the room, I was the only to ask any questions. A good reporter asks questions — make them not answer you. Even after I broke the ice they all stood mute. Sigh.
The statement also included the last name of the complainant, but I felt it best to leave it off.