Wauwatosa West H.S. principal, district superintendent apologize for racial comment

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WAUWATOSA – The principal of Wauwatosa West High School has apologized for making a racial comment to a class of students. The incident happened last week -- and has some calling for the principal's resignation.

Thomas Leonard

Thomas Leonard

The comment made by the principal, Frank Calarco, was directed at high school senior Thomas Leonard on Friday morning, April 22nd in a science class.

FOX6's Ben Handelman spoke with Leonard about the incident.

"He says, 'Hey, can someone tell this kid it's not the 1960s.  Black people don't have to sit in the back of the classroom,'" Leonard said. "At first I was like, I don't even care; he said what he said. But then around 6:00 Friday night, I said, 'this is bigger than me. This is about Tosa West and the community.'"

Calarco apologized over the loudspeaker Monday, as Dr. Phil Ertl, superintendent of the Wauwatosa School District, released the following statement on the matter:

"Last week, Frank Calarco, principal of Wauwatosa West High School, made a racial comment to a class of students. The statement, while not intending to be harmful, was insensitive and inappropriate. Mr. Calarco apologized to students on Friday and again (Monday). (On Monday) morning I joined some other district staff, including the district’s Supervisor of Equity and Student Services, to listen to students who are understandably upset about this situation.

In the Wauwatosa Schools, we have gone to great lengths to address issues of race and ethnicity in a thoughtful and straightforward manner and to open dialogue about race. It is clear that much work remains.

Just as Principal Calarco has apologized, I, too, want to offer students and families my heartfelt apology for this situation. As a school district, our focus is on creating a safe and inviting school environment for all students. These comments moved us away from that goal.

I am very sorry.

In the short term, I welcome any student, parent or community member who would like to discuss this matter to contact me directly. I want to ensure that you are heard, and I want the opportunity to apologize to you directly.

In the longer term, I believe that we must continue to make sure all students feel like our schools belong to each and every one of them. I am committed to making sure the Wauwatosa School District is the best place for all students to learn. Again, on behalf of the Wauwatosa Schools, I am very sorry for this situation."

Not everyone has accepted the apologies.

Sam Coleman

Sam Coleman

"I'm shocked. I'm appalled," Sam Coleman said.

Coleman is Leonard's uncle and legal guardian. A school administrator himself, when he heard what happened, he immediately demanded a meeting with the principal.

"I'd like the leader to be held accountable. I'd like to see his resignation," Coleman said.

Video from the student newspaper shows that more than 100 gathered Monday in between classes to hear Leonard denounce the comments.

Wauwatosa West High School

Wauwatosa West High School

"He didn't just disrespect me.  He disrespected the 900-something students and our families and the community by saying this," Leonard said.

Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee), who is a family friend of Leonard, attended a forum on Monday afternoon hosted by the Wauwatosa West Black Student Union amid this controversy. He issued this statement:

"After being notified of this issue by a family member of a student, I cleared my calendar in order to help develop an authentic dialogue among students, faculty, and parents who are discouraged by this situation. Regardless of zip code, we need to do better by listening to our students and making sure their ideas and solutions are acted upon so they are included and not made to feel invisible in their school environment.

Thanks to Thomas Leonard, members of the Black Student Union, and student services faculty for co-hosting this important conversation. It is great to see students of color standing up for themselves, demanding accountability, and encouraging inclusivity in their school. I intend to continue this conversation as it affects students who attend schools throughout the Milwaukee area.

I also want to thank Principal Calarco for taking the time to meet with me and having a fruitful, positive conversation. I am encouraged by his willingness to be open about this situation and to address the concerns of his student body with action and by being a leader in working toward a more inclusive school climate."

Wauwatosa West High School

Wauwatosa West High School

Monitor FOX6 News and FOX6Now.com for updates on this developing story.

33 comments

  • NancyD

    This is insane. I am so sick of everyone looking for ways to be offended. My son had Frank as a teacher and you will not find a finer, more sensitive educator. As a Tosa resident, I am embarrassed that this is even an issue.

    • Smarmy Smarmerson

      So much for “Love thy neighbor”. I guess it’s just too much to ask to try to see something from another person’s perspective. Hey…you know it’s not the 1950s and you don’t have to sit in your kitchen, typing comments on Fox6 while you prep dinner for your husband and kids, right?

      • NancyD

        Gee Smarmy, I found your comment amusing. But then, I don’t sit around looking for things to be insulted by.

      • Smarmy Smarmerson

        NancyD: You were clearly offended by this article so that innocent “I’m not offended because I’m not sensitive” is complete bunk. You’re pretty darn thin skinned if this got your panties in a knot.

    • Anita

      Oh good Lord! Are you telling me that the entire decade cannot be mentioned because it’s a racist decade? If that’s so, then this is the decade of stupid. If he had said that it was the 60s and the kid needed to sit in the back of the room, then it would have been racist. Brittanie, if you are going to get up in arms about this, you are going to have a very difficult time living in the real world. Frankly, I’d rather be disgusting than a humorless, hyper-sensitive child.

    • Opinion8d

      MLK is spinning in his grave right now looking at the way blacks have squandered and threw away all that he and other worked towards. The problem with today’s blacks is they don’t even know what it was like to be ‘oppressed’ or deal with those issues from the 60’s. They are too busy ‘trying to get theirs’ without an education, no skills, having kids as teens that they can’t support, and etc. I don’t care what color or race you are, education is the key to success and overcoming poverty. When people come to this country with nothing, and barely speak the language, and yet, through education, become successful, I have no sympathy for anyone who oppresses themselves!!

  • USMC GRUNT 0311, AUTHOR OF SARCASM

    OH, cry me a river, pull up you’re pants and get out of mom’s basement, it’s a tough world out here.

    • Malai

      I’m assuming you didn’t read the article? Then you might know that he isn’t living with his parents.

  • Opinion8d

    So it’s racist to teach about history??? The sad part is, those kids probably have no idea what real racism is. If a white person ‘judges’ them or says anything about ‘black’ culture, it’s racist – and that is pure BS!! Your ignorance and inability to deal with the real problems in the black community is what perpetuates the issues!!

  • Anita

    I wonder how many of these student are protesting against anyone playing rap music at school. Rap music is extremely disrespectful to women talking about sexually and physically abusing them. The music constantly uses the N word. If anything is racist and sexist, rap music is. Yet, I bet none of those kids are “offended” by that. I noticed the “offended” kid was not upset by the comment until later that night. It sounds like he is being used as a pawn for someone’s agenda.

  • Vernacular matters

    @Opinionated: I think you’re having difficulty understanding that “racial” and “racist” are different words.

  • Johnny K

    Wait…..They have a BLACK student union?! Isn’t that racist in itself? It’s that double standard that makes my blood boil.

  • Mike

    I have a great photo of Sam Coleman imitating a well known Malcolm X photo, holding a long rifle and peeking out a window. The Colemans are active in the Dontre Hamilton group and with local union groups.

  • Faith

    Mr. Calarco is an amazing man and I personally owe much thanks to him. I see his side, as well as Leonard. But when a situation like this occurs, it would have been responsible for Leonard to tell Mr. Calarco how it made him feel. I guarantee right then and there he would have apologized to that young man. The topic of race is a very important issue, but it could have been handled more discretely. Mr. Calarco is one of the most amazing principles West has ever had and he has made a huge impact. Many of the students that don’t favor him, are mad because he doesn’t put up with their immaturity. This is one case where Leonard has every right to be angry, but a lot of the people are using this as an excuse to be angry at Mr. C because this is the only evidence they have against him. No matter what it said in the news, my opinion on Mr. Calarco will NEVER change. I believe he is just a wonderful man who made a very disrespectful mistake.

  • Opinion8d

    @Vernacular matters….yet, I may have missed the racial/racist difference, but I’m failing to see the issue with that. The fact that someone is sensitized to ‘racial comment’ implies racism. It would be like someone saying ‘white privilege’ -it a racial term, but it implies a racist attribute. The problem is that blacks have become the only ones who can speak on ‘racial’ matters. The bottom line is this is another ‘grievance’ opportunity for those looking to make a name for themselves. It’s a non-issue and again detracts from the REAL issue within the black community.

  • Markus Miner

    I don’t really get how this is news, but I think a dialogue is great if that was the intent of this student and his family. The uncle saying he demands a resignation and that the student doesn’t accept the apology tells me this isn’t about dialogue, but about sensationalism and attention. Again, if there was an insensitive or offensive comment, this an opportunity to communicate, learn and grow. It should not be an opportunity to demonize.

    As for the facebook posts and comments I’ve seen in which students say “us students gathered” and “us students won’t tolerate” and so on, perhaps you should focus more on your education, at least enough to know it’s “we students.”

  • Wally

    Omg, this us a joke……that Twinkie needs to grow a pair and join the real world. Time to grow up people.

  • imcrazy

    If the principal asked Thomas Leonard to sit in the front of the class that would be deemed racist too.
    All this PC crap is destroying the USA.

  • unaplogetically white

    Apparently these days the penalty for making an ignorant statement is castration. How about oh I don’t know maybe having the testicular fortitude to TELL someone man to man that they have offended you. And give them the chance to make an earnest apology and do that maybe….oh I don’t know how about BEFORE you call a press conference and act so insanely butthurt. And yes anita racism only matters if you’re not white.

  • Mark Schmidt

    The principle was 100% correct in his statement. I was in school in the 60s and black kids sat in the back of the classrooms. I think the people involved in the protest need to research history to learn the facts before passing judgement.

  • walloffthenorthside

    I live in the community and his comments didn’t disrespect me. Since fox6 is so focused on pushing racism, I had a black woman call me a cracker a** honky the other day at the Mayfair Collection. Will you run my story or can only whites be racist?

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  • Michael Neils

    If he wouldn’t have said it someone would have whined it’s the 1960’s we have to sit in the back.

  • Libsareliars

    So the comment did not bother this kid until 6 o’clock that evening and all of a sudden it bothered him? So I wonder who he talked to because my guess is he figured he could get some attention from the news if he reported it. I have news for you Mr. Leonard you are going to find out in life that people say things you don’t always agree with. Grow up for once!!!!!

  • Susan Cruisan

    A lot of you guys making comments on this post are missing the whole entire point. Comments like this are inappropriate to be said to any child by anyone. The fact that it was said by someone who is supposed to have the most power in the school makes it disastrous. He made this insensitive comment and other students heard it. When students witness behavior like this from an administrator they begin to accept it as okay. It is not okay. It is simply not. You expect this child to just brush it off? Do you think this is the first time this student has hear ignorant statements like this come out of a teachers mouth. I can guarantee that this is not his first time being offended while attending his majority white teacher and majority white student school. Sometimes you just have enough. It’s not about being sensitive. For you feel disrespected whether because of your race your, gender, your class, your sexuality etc, you better speak up or expect to be disrespected for your entire life.

    • Libsareliarsliars

      Well pity me poor Susan. You know how many times in my life I had a teacher criticize me for one thing or another? Guess what i turned out just fine. It is people like you that want to use political correctness every time someone opens their mouth. Maybe you need to grow up for once and deal with life.

      • Susan Cruisan

        Well congratulations that’s fantastic. Let me ask you a question. Are you a black male? Are you African American at all? Were you considered an outsider to many of the people in your community? Did you have any reason to feel like comments made towards you addressed a bigger problem that our society faces? If not then you did right by keeping your mouth shut just like you should have done before replying to my comment.

  • Michael Neils

    Instead of calling for resignations, protesting and obstructing/cancelling classes/traffic blocks etc EVERY STUDENT/FACULTY MEMBER who feels this had offended them will stay AFTER school an additional 3 hours every day for a week to complete a thousand word essay on why/how they feel. Each participant will receive a participant trophy.

  • strengthhonorpurposelove

    He who is without mistakes, or has never said something to someone and needed to apologize for it…. Please, cast that first stone.

    Mr Calarco was one of my teachers years ago, and he is a great person, who is flawed like everyone else in this world. Make a mistake, apologize, move on and don’t repeat the mistake. End of story.

Comments are closed.