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Parents demand answers after a West Hartford middle school teacher uses a racial slur

Che'La'Mora Hardy (left), Mother of the eighth-grade Sedgwick Middle School student who she said was the target of the racial slur walks into West Hartford Town Hall before the Board of Education meeting.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
Che'La'Mora Hardy (left), Mother of the eighth-grade Sedgwick Middle School student who she said was the target of the racial slur walks into West Hartford Town Hall before the Board of Education meeting.

Calls for answers surrounding a West Hartford teacher accused of using the N-word in front of students are getting more intense. Tuesday night, a group of protesters led by a local Black Lives Matter chapter gathered outside of a West Hartford Board of Education meeting to demand answers regarding the teacher’s employment status.

The incident allegedly happened after Black student at Sedgwick Middle School asked his teacher to elaborate on what kind of words students were and were not allowed to use in the classroom. His parents and family say the teacher targeted him when they used that word.

“I don’t know what that teacher was thinking when she used that racial slur,” Lee Thomas-Morton, the student’s grandmother said. “It is wrong, unacceptable, and inappropriate. Had it been a teacher of color to have done something like this to a white child, we would be looking at the back of their head as they walked out the door.”

TheWest Hartford Education Association is representing the teacher in the investigation. They said the teacher made a poor mistake when using that language but quickly acknowledged their mistake.

Thomas-Morton said she is concerned for the long-term effects the incident may have on her grandson’s learning.

“I don't want this to become an issue where he struggles to go into a classroom because of the color of his skin,” she said.

Board of education member Lorna-Thomas Farquharson, started the meeting with a suggestion to allow public comments because the incident at Sedgwick Middle School was not on the agenda.

“I don’t think that is someone who should be working with students of color. That is not someone I believe should be working with students at this time," Ivelisse Correa of BLM 860 said.

When it was time for West Hartford superintendent Paul Vicinus to address the situation or give updates on the teacher’s employment status, he chose not to. This prompted parents and supporters to leave mid-meeting.

Vicinus hasn’t responded to questions about the incident at the middle schools since giving his initial statement more than two weeks ago. He wrote that the district does not condone derogatory language, racial slurs, and hate speech in West Hartford Public Schools.

“School administration takes these reports very seriously and acted immediately in removing the teacher from the classroom,” Vicinus said. “We are conducting a thorough investigation while simultaneously taking all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our students and providing all necessary support.”

Parents brought up that this isn’t a one-off incident, as there have been several incidents of teachers using racial slurs in Connecticut public schools.

In 2019, a teacher at Platt Technical High School in Milford was fired after saying the N-word during a lesson on stereotypes about Black and Latino people during Black History Month. The teacher got her job back a few years later.

Yvettee Yearly, a supporter of the family who was at the board meeting on Tuesday, said the incident reminded her of when she was in her school’s history class and a teacher used the N-word when talking about slavery.

“My teacher, who happened to be white, looked at me and smiled. I was the only Black student in class and all of the other children laughed at me,” Yearly said. “So I feel how this young man feels because this stuff stays with you for the rest of your life. My question is, when will it stop?”

Victoria Lee Thomas, chair of the education committee of the NAACP in Hartford, said she’s disappointed, but not surprised that the superintendent didn’t address the situation at the meeting. The family of the child has a lot of community support, she said.

“It's getting to a point where it feels like it's just been swept under the rug. But it's not going away. And we will be here every week, every month if we have to, until this is resolved,” she said. “If she speaks like that, she thinks like that. I don’t want to hear it was a one-time incident. It’s unacceptable today, yesterday, and tomorrow.”

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.

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