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Whistleblower accuses MPS of intentionally harming advancement of minority students

Earlier this year, the I-Team spoke with Deb Kuether, Manager of K12 Literacy at MPS, about the alleged retaliation she faced from her former supervisor.
MPS
Posted at 6:21 PM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 21:06:58-04

MILWAUKEE — The I-Team has reviewed one of several depositions of current and former Milwaukee Public School officials, commenting on the district’s failure to have an adequate plan.

Earlier this year, the I-Team spoke with Deb Kuether, Manager of K12 Literacy at MPS, about the alleged retaliation she faced from her former supervisor. While that case is moving through the Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division (ERD), she says video deposition with MPS’ former Deputy Superintendent affirms some of her claims.

“This is way bigger than me,” Kuether said. “This is system-wide.”

The I-Team first reported Kuether’s case in January after the ERD found probable cause in her complaint. She faced harassment and retaliation for speaking out about flaws she saw in MPS’ literacy resources.

“We did not have digital content for our students in many of those areas,” Kuether said. “The children we served, we were denying them access to programming, resources, experiences we have promised through public education.”

Kuether says this is something that disproportionately impacts children of color, since MPS population is roughly 89 percent of students of color and, as a whole, 82 percent of the student population is economically disadvantaged.

“Issues that have nothing to do with student advancement are at the forefront of management's mind,” Attorney Ben Hitchcock Cross said. “That's the problem here.”

Hitchcock Cross represents Kuether. He says, since she came forward, he now represents six whistleblowers against MPS, though TMJ4 News has not independently confirmed this.

During the ERD complaint process, he’s already conducted several hours of depositions with senior-level people within the district, including former Deputy Superintendent Calvin Fermin.

“I felt the district was not adequately creating a strategic plan or otherwise moving forward in a strategic direction,” Fermin said in the deposition. “That there was no meaningful effort to address, for example, declining enrollment or low student performance.”

Kuether points to issues highlighted by the pandemic as evidence of a lack of a strategic plan; one she feels should have already been in place.

“Most schools had an online setting for kids,” Kuether said. “Milwaukee Public Schools did not. We had to build that. We did not have digital content for our students in many of those areas. The students’ day is limited to what they have in front of them to gain content.”

Hitchcock Cross says they plan to file a federal lawsuit once the case is complete with the Department of Workforce Development.

The Milwaukee School Board tells the I-Team they do not comment on personnel matters.

Milwaukee Public Schools’ Director of Communications & Outreach provided the following statement:

“Milwaukee Public Schools are the most proactive of any school district in the state of Wisconsin when it comes to the advancement and well-being of minority students. Our academic programs, community partnerships, extracurricular activities, and highly educated staff support tens of thousands of students and families every single day.

It is unfortunate that any individual or organization would choose to disregard the dozens of programs and thousands of staff that are committed to the success of our students. I invite you to learn more about these programs, of which we have success stories every single day.”

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