Fired Sennett principal gets his job back, Madison school board overrides dismissal

MADISON, Wis. — The Madison school board on Friday elected to reinstate Sennett Middle school’s principal, more than two months after he was initially fired.

Dr. Jeffery Copeland was terminated by the district after he accidentally left a controversial voicemail for a job applicant that Madison school officials called inappropriate. He had been in charge of the school for less than a month at the time he was originally dismissed.

RELATED: MMSD refuses to reinstate fired principal after ‘inappropriate’ comments on voicemail, records show

Soon after he was let go, with the support of Sennett staff, Copeland filed a grievance for dismissal contesting his firing and the district’s interpretation of the voicemail.

Following more the two hours of deliberation in a closed session, the school board’s decision was met with cheers from Sennett staff.

Teachers then quickly after the meeting called Copeland, who was not in attendance, with the good news. He could be heard on speakerphone celebrating his reinstatement.

Among those celebrating at the school district headquarters was math teacher Mika Oreido.

“As a parent of two Sennett students and as a staff member, I feel great,” he said. “I feel that this was a long time in coming, I feel this was what was needed to bring him back, and we’re very excited.”

The school board did impose some disciplinary action to include three weeks without pay to serve as a suspension. Copeland will also be subject to a written reprimand and will need to take part in professional development.

In a statement, the board called the decision “incredibly challenging.”

The full statement reads:

“Dr. Copleand [sic] was reinstated unanimously by the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education on December 2, 2022. This was an incredibly challenging decision, and after a thorough review of this matter, we believe this decision acknowledged all voices, respected the grievance process, and acknowledged the seriousness of the incident.

“The board acknowledges the commitment of our administrators and their dedication to ensuring every individual seeking employment with MMSD is treated with respect and dignity.”

The Madison Metropolitan School District issued a separate statement following the board’s decision, saying it appreciated the feedback it received from the Sennett community.

The district’s statement reads:

“Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) appreciates and values the feedback provided from our Sennett Middle School community on the future leadership of Sennett Middle School. Tonight’s decision by the MMSD School Board ushers in a time of healing and moving forward.

“The passion our families and community have for the success of our scholars and schools is what makes MMSD so strong. Strong relationships among scholars, families, and staff are vital to co-creating learning environments where all scholars have equal opportunity to thrive.

“MMSD also recognizes its tremendous responsibility as an educational institution to uphold the right of every student to be educated in an all-inclusive, non-discriminatory and welcoming learning environments, which requires non-discriminatory workplaces for staff. As such, MMSD continues to stand committed to reject the spirit and logic behind any form of discrimination, in alignment with our core values.”

Teachers at Sennett agreed Copeland’s comments about the prospective employee, who had a degree from the Dominican Republic, were in bad taste but said lesser disciplinary action would be more appropriate. In the recording, Copeland questioned the district’s hiring process and the prospective employee’s ability to communicate with students.

The school board first met to discuss Copeland’s firing Tuesday in a closed session but no action was taken then.