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Schools investigating after Wayland Middle School teen called racist slur at track meet

“Racial slurs have no place in our schools, including extra-curricular activities and athletic events,” Wayland’s middle school principal said in a letter to families

School leaders in Wayland and Sudbury are investigating after a report that a Wayland Middle School athlete was called a racist slur by a member of Sudbury’s track team during a track meet Friday.Meg Oliphant/Getty Images for Rock 'n' Roll Marathon

School leaders in Wayland and Sudbury are investigating after a report that a Wayland Middle School athlete was called a racist slur by a member of Sudbury’s track team during a track meet Friday.

Keisha Taylor said her 14-year-old son had just won a 200m race at Wayland’s high school when one of the Sudbury runners called him and other Black athletes the n-word. The slur was overheard by one of her son’s teammates, who then told him, Taylor said.

And at a moment when their family should have been jubilant with his victory, that joy was derailed as Taylor’s son instead had to repeat the slur to her: “‘Damn, those n-words are fast.’”

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“I was pretty upset,” Taylor said in an interview. “It’s hard to hear something like that coming from your son, that he won his race based on the color of his skin, instead of the hard work and dedication that he actually put forth in track and field.”

In a letter sent home to families Sunday night, Wayland Middle School Principal Betsy Gavron said she and Acting Superintendent Parry Graham are working with Sudbury Middle School Principal Jeff Mela and Sudbury Public Schools Superintendent Brad Crozier to “to investigate and address this situation.”

Wayland and Sudbury do “not tolerate racist behavior,” Gavron wrote.

“Racial slurs have no place in our schools, including extra-curricular activities and athletic events,” said Gavron, who described measures the schools already have in place to combat racism.

In Wayland, school counselors and its METCO team are being made available to support students who have been affected by the incident, she said. She also encouraged families to speak with their children about how racist slurs and stereotypes can inflict lasting emotional pain and harm on other people.

“We want our school community to be one in which every person is treated with dignity and respect,” she said.

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Wayland and Sudbury school leaders reached by the Globe Sunday night said they were working together closely on their response to the incident.

Crozier, the Sudbury superintendent, in an e-mail to the Globe Sunday night, said school officials were “actively pursuing simultaneous investigations” about what happened to Taylor’s son.

“We are very concerned about this report and are taking it very seriously,” Crozier said.

In a separate e-mail, Graham, the acting Wayland superintendent, said: “The use of racial slurs and racially-charged language is incredibly damaging to our students and families of color, and represents unacceptable disrespect and indignity to members of our communities.”

The reported racist slur comes less than two weeks after Wayland’s previous superintendent, Omar Easy, was replaced by the town’s School Committee. Easy, who was Wayland’s first Black superintendent, alleges he was the target of racism during his year-and-a-half long tenure.

Taylor, during the interview, said she and her husband reported what happened to school officials Saturday, and praised Wayland schools’ handling of the situation. But she wants to make sure that both school systems do more to combat racism.

“I just want to make sure they actually do something about it,” Taylor said. “And not just saying it just for the optics — I want them to actually make sure that something is done to correct this matter.”

She also wants the Sudbury student to publicly apologize to her son.

“It should not happen to any other child,” Taylor said.

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Taylor said her son has been running since he was 6, and trains every day. He belongs to his school team and a regional track and field team, he’s competed in the Junior Olympics, and has won numerous competitions, she said. Grit and determination has led to his success on the track, she said.

In a video of Friday’s race, Taylor’s son quickly emerges from the pack of runners; it’s almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance. One moment, there is a crowded field, and the next, Taylor’s son is all alone with the lead — which only grows as he strides to the finish line to a chorus of cheers.

“When we see him come out here and win by a lot, it’s not because of the color of his skin,” Taylor said. “It’s because he trained for this, he worked hard day in, day out. And this was the result.”

He is unhappy over what happened at the meet, Taylor said, before adding that her son did the right thing in stepping forward, and reporting what happened to him.

“I am very proud of him for acknowledging that this wasn’t right, and standing up to it,” Taylor said. “Some people don’t have that courage at this young age.

“I’m loving the fact that he knows who he is, that he is proud of who he is.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.