“I’m wondering if we could hold a circle — not to find out the truth, but to see how we can move forward on this,” Mirilli told me.

Mirilli says she was wrongly depicted by Manski as pro-voucher because of a supposed association with Kaleem Caire of the Urban League of Greater Madison. Caire on Wednesday resurrected allegations of double-dealing by leaders of Madison Teachers Inc. in negotiating his Madison Preparatory Academy charter proposal that was rejected by the School Board two years ago.

Meanwhile, members of local communities of color and conservative commentators are using the Manski affair to question progressives’ commitment to issues like education and engaging more African-Americans and Latinos in civic life.

It’s all got people talking, all right, but it isn’t the discussion about quality education and closing the academic achievement gap that Mirilli was hoping for.

“Since Madison Prep, a lot of things have happened to fuel argument and mistrust. Relationships were damaged,” Mirilli says. “We want public schools, but we also want to reduce the achievement gap and other disparities. So how do we have healthy school communities?”

Restorative justice circles, which Mirilli has helped bring to several Madison middle and high schools, don’t focus on who was “right” in a dispute, but on respectful dialogue with the goal of repairing relationships.

What would such a circle on the broken relationships among local education activists look like? Who would be sitting there; and what might those first words be when someone picked up the talking stick?

Mirilli says she’s still trying to flesh out the details in her mind. One thing she knows for sure: “In the circle, you need to trust each other.”

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