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Melrose teacher made ‘plantation’ reference to black student

A now-retired Melrose middle school teacher referred to a “plantation” while reprimanding a black student in April 2014 and later said the student spoke to her like a slave would to a master, newly released findings from civil rights investigators show.

The findings from the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights were obtained by the Globe on Friday and shed light on an incident that prompted school officials to place the teacher on paid leave before ultimately transferring her to another building. She later retired.

Neither the federal government nor the Melrose Public Schools have identified the instructor or the male student.

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The student reported that the teacher asked him and his friends to come back into the library from the hall, and he said “Coming, Ms. [Teacher]” in a high-pitched voice. She allegedly responded, “are you coming back to the plantation” or “Come back to the plantation,” the civil rights office said.

A staff member told investigators that she heard the remark as well, and reported that the teacher said, “What are we, going back to the plantation?”

In a statement Friday, Melrose Superintendent Cyndy Taymore said she received word that the civil rights office had completed its review of the “deeply unfortunate incident.”

Taymore said the findings, “combined with the Resolution Agreement reached by Melrose Public Schools and [the civil rights office] in December, give us the framework we need to successfully address the concerns of the Office of Civil Rights and the community. We are completely dedicated to upholding and realizing the conclusions set forth in the December agreement.”

The superintendent announced last month that the school district had reached an agreement with the civil rights office to prevent discrimination and properly investigate complaints going forward.

She told the Globe at the time that she could not directly quote the Veterans Memorial Middle School teacher’s statements to the student, since officials could not determine precisely what she said from witness interviews.

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Taymore had said the teacher “made a reference to African-American history” that was inappropriate and could be considered discriminatory, though her remarks were not “overtly derogatory.”

According to federal investigators, the instructor did not deny making the plantation reference during a meeting with the principal and assistant principal.

“During this meeting, and subsequent inquiries, the Teacher stated that she could not recall exactly what she had said but acknowledged she made a statement to the Student to the effect of ‘don’t talk to me like you’re on a plantation,’ ” said a letter from the civil rights office detailing its findings.

The teacher expressed a willingness to apologize to the student, and a meeting with the two was “promptly held” with administrators present, the letter said.

At that meeting, she apologized “for any misunderstanding that may have upset the Student” and said he should not feel subservient to her or demean himself, according to the document.

The instructor also described the student’s high-pitched “Coming, [Teacher]” statement as “akin to a remark that a ‘slave’ would make to a ‘master,’ ” the letter said, adding that the student also apologized for being disrespectful.

Taymore said Friday that while the case involved staffers who no longer work for the school district, “I acknowledge that much work remains.”

She continued, “I am committed to ensuring that no student ever faces institutional discrimination based on their race, skin color, religion, origin, or any other demographic.”

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.