Posted on March 13, 2019

A White Child Called Three Black Classmates a Racial Slur. Months Later, the School Is Struggling to Move Forward.

Perry Stei, Washington Post, March 12, 2019

A racist slur hurled at three black children on a D.C. schoolyard has forced a public elementary school with a mostly white and affluent student body to address its discipline policies and examine whether the school is inclusive to families from all backgrounds.

The incident at Key Elementary in the Palisades neighborhood of Northwest Washington happened in October, but interviews and electronic communications between administrators and families shared with The Washington Post suggest the campus is still reeling from the aftermath.

On Oct. 16, a white fifth-grader at Key Elementary used a racial slur against three classmates when he became upset during a football game at recess, according to the school system’s investigation of the incident, which was obtained by The Post. School officials confirmed the authenticity of the report.

The student stated “and I don’t care if I’m racist” after invoking the slur.

The incident was reported to administrators, and the parents of the child who used the epithet were notified, but the student was not immediately disciplined, according to the investigation. And the parents of the three black students were not immediately notified of the episode — a fact that parents say has exacerbated tensions at the school and is at the heart of the ensuing conversations.

Families from Key Elementary are grappling with how to move forward. Some families who were interviewed said they believe public and often tense conversations about race and privilege are necessary, with a few calling for administrators to lose their jobs over their handling of the incident. Others say the reaction has been overblown and protracted, and that the hateful words of an elementary school student should not have punctured the community the way they did.


And in late November, the investigation states, the white student’s family decided to withdraw him from the school.

“We don’t tolerate any forms of discrimination or any form of hate,” said Shayne Wells, a D.C. school system spokesman. {snip}

The parents of the children involved in the episode declined to comment or could not be directly reached.


The school’s parent-teacher organization hired an outside firm to facilitate conversations with families and to train staff on racial sensitivity and how to discuss these thorny issues with children.


Key has far fewer students who are regarded as vulnerable than the school system overall: Just 2 percent of the Key student body is considered at risk, defined as children who are homeless, in foster care, recipients of welfare or food stamps, or languishing in high school. Citywide, nearly 50 percent of D.C. public school students are considered at risk.


Omo Oratokhai, the black mother of a fifth-grader at Key, said she has lived in the Palisades for 12 years and is an involved parent at the school. The incident does not reflect her experience there, she said, and she thinks assigning too much value to what a child said may do the community more harm than good.

She wonders if the tension and conversations that have engulfed Key Elementary could affect her son: Will teachers still be willing to discipline her child if necessary, or will they fear they could be perceived as racist if they do?

“It’s been too much for me. I think some people are taking it too far,” Oratokhai said. “I really don’t get what we gain by bringing this up all the time.”

Key administrators said the school has implemented new reporting protocols for hate speech and aggressive behavior. The principal met with students in kindergarten through fifth grade to “talk about the importance of reporting any acts of hate speech or anything that makes them uncomfortable,” a letter to parents read.