A student discovered a racial slur on the wall of a boys’ restroom at a Maryland elementary school last week and told a teacher, but officials said the teacher did not take immediate action to report the incident.
The principal at Sligo Creek Elementary School in Montgomery County said in a letter sent to parents Monday that a teacher failed to report the graffiti slur to the school’s main office and that a building service worker cleaned it away Thursday evening.
Administrators learned of the slur Monday morning, apparently from concerned parents.
“We are very saddened by this incident,” Principal Diantha Swift wrote in the letter. “It is offensive. This type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
Swift said the school would “use this as a teachable moment” and would continue to focus on “a rigorous instructional program in a caring environment to develop responsible citizens.”
Montgomery County school district officials said they are investigating, including trying to determine the exact wording of the slur.
Before the school alerted parents Monday, one mother raised the issue in a parents’ email group, writing that her son was among the children who discovered the graffiti and that it read: “Kill Kill Kill Blacks.”
Other parents from the Silver Spring school weighed in quickly, describing the act as unacceptable, questioning the delay in taking action and saying they would get involved to help.
“I think it’s appalling, and I think the school’s reaction to it is underwhelming, to say the least,” Simone Cote, a parent of two children at the school, said in an interview. “It’s more than a racial slur, it’s a hate crime.”
Cote said she thinks it’s important to be clear with students that such behavior will not be tolerated and will be met with severe consequences, while also ensuring that teachers and staff members are trained on how to address such issues immediately.
“Everybody should be on the same page and know what to do in situations like this,” she said.
Donné Settles Allen, who has two African American sons in the school’s language-immersion program, said she was disgusted when she read about the graffiti and thinks it’s more important than ever for parents to honestly talk about race and racism.
“I always felt very welcome at the school, and that feeling immediately dissipated,” she said, describing it as “very painful for me to trust the school environment” if stronger efforts are not made to educate children about racism.
Montgomery County police were called in to investigate Monday. “We’re looking at it as a hate-based incident,” said Montgomery County Police Capt. Paul Starks. “We’re taking it seriously.”
School district officials said the teacher who failed to report the graffiti forgot about it on the day it happened and emailed school administrators Saturday.
Officials said they could not discuss any possible action against the teacher, which would be considered a confidential personnel matter. The building services worker also did not report the graffiti after discovering it and cleaning it up, they said.
Derek Turner, a spokesman for the 159,000-student Montgomery County school system, said the district is looking into an uptick in hate-inspired vandalism in recent weeks.
Administrators at Westland Middle School in Bethesda last week found numerous images of a swastika drawn on a boys’ bathroom wall, the second recent incident at Westland.
In October, swastikas were spray-painted on sidewalks, a telephone pole and a school banner outside Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda. It is unclear if they are related to the Westland incident.
Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jack Smith called the trend “disturbing and unacceptable” in a statement Tuesday, adding that the acts violate school policy and the law and are “simply wrong.” Smith said students who commit such offenses will be disciplined to the fullest extent possible.
Smith said that district officials are working with police as they investigate and that while Montgomery schools respect the right to free speech, administrators won’t tolerate hate-based speech or behavior in school communities.