‘1,000 wounds’: Sheets of paper with racial slur printed from Montgomery Co. school printer

A Maryland teacher loaded sheets of paper into a Montgomery County classroom printer last month when she noticed a large number of pages being printed out in a single run.

On the 1,000 sheets of paper was just one word — a racial slur against the Black community.

“It was, like, just a continual assault. Boom! Boom! Boom!” said Thomas S. Wootton High School special education teacher Freda Jones, one of the teachers who discovered the hateful message.

Just two days before it happened on May 17, another print job churned out the same thing, and the delay in reporting the first incident alarmed Jones, a sponsor of the Black Student Union. It also upset some students, who called for more action when it comes to incidents of hate and bias in the school system.

Students Charlie Rollins, Leila Khademian and Teramoluwa Taiwo went before the Montgomery County Board of Education this week to talk about the printouts.

Rollins told the board members what was especially upsetting was the fact that there had been a lag in reporting the incident to the administration and Wootton High School Principal Douglas Nelson.

“The delay in the reporting of this incident has only been salt in each one of these 1,000 wounds inflicted by each hateful word on those sheets of paper,” said Rollins, who is the treasurer of the Black Student Union.

Rollins called for allocating funding toward addressing anti-Black racism and including appropriate resources for school staff to support this work. Rollins said he wanted to be sure his peers feel “safe and secure at all times.”

After hearing the students’ comments, school board member Brenda Wolff said she was unaware of the incident.

“I’m also concerned because I’ve always believed that there’s an underreporting of incidents of bias in the schools,” Wolff said.

Khademian, a junior, told WTOP in an interview that these things occur so often that, “As Black people, we are no longer surprised.” But she quickly added, “That doesn’t mean that we’re going to sweep this under the rug or treat it as normal.”

When the printouts came out during a class, Jones, the special education teacher, said she pretended as if nothing was going on because she was focused on stopping the print run and making sure that none of her students saw the message.

She and other staff members reported the incident to the school system’s restorative justice coach “because I recognized this as an act of hate, and we have a no-hate initiative going on right now in the school,” Jones said.

Jones said she was alarmed because the same thing had happened two days before and had been brought to an administrator; but only when the restorative justice coach alerted the principal “that’s when things got rolling.”

“That is really, I think, more of why the students and people who are aware of the incident are upset,” Jones said.

Wootton Principal Nelson sent a letter to the school community explaining that an investigation following the guidelines for reporting hate and bias incidents set out by Montgomery County Public Schools had been conducted.

Nelson said that police had been contacted, and that “I learned this issue was first discovered and reported on Wednesday, May 15. Unfortunately, a full investigation was not started until it was reported to me.”

The ninth-grader responsible for the printouts “received appropriate consequences according to the MCPS Student Code of Conduct,” Nelson wrote, adding that work at the school level would continue to address incidents of hate and bias to ensure they do not happen again.

But Nelson also asked parents to talk to their children and offered resources to help start those conversations.

Before this week’s meeting, a Montgomery County Board of Education spokeswoman sent a statement to WTOP reiterating its “commitment to providing all students the opportunity to learn in safe, welcoming schools.”

“MCPS is implementing a number of strategies to address incidents of hate including empowering students and families to report incidents of bullying and harassment so we can take action,” the board statement said.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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