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Cambridge elementary school worker fired after using the N-word during recess

A Cambridge elementary school worker was fired after using an “unacceptable” racial slur while supervising students during recess on Friday, according to Cambridge Public Schools.

The termination came after a group of fourth- and fifth-graders at Cambridgeport School told the school’s principal that a lunch room aide had “used an unacceptable racial slur and addressed the students in a disrespectful manner during recess,” Cambridge’s superintendent of schools, Kenneth Salim, said in a statement.

“After praising the students for knowing when to report such unacceptable behavior, the principal investigated the incident and terminated the employee effective immediately,” Salim said in the statement.

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School officials did not elaborate on the nature of the incident.

However, parent John Summers told the Globe that his fourth-grade daughter came home upset on Friday and said that a lunch aide, who he said is African-American, had called his daughter’s African-American classmate the N-word.

“I could hardly believe it,” Summers said.

A Cambridge schools spokeswoman declined to comment on the aide’s race, but did say the students reported that the N-word was used.

The superintendent’s statement said that Cambridge is actively working to “dismantle systemic oppression in our schools” and is “committed to altering power dynamics and structures in order to elevate underrepresented voices and to recognize and eliminate bias.”

The worker was defined as an hourly aide who supervises students during lunch and recess, but school officials said they could not provide the aide’s name. Efforts by the Globe to reach the worker were not immediately successful.

The school’s principal, Katie Charner-Laird, wrote an e-mail to parents of students in grades 3 through 5 that an incident had occurred and that the aide had been terminated for using inappropriate language toward students, the superintendent’s statement said.

Summers said that he never received the principal’s e-mail, but did have a brief e-mail exchange with a teacher who confirmed the nature of the incident on Friday.

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The Cambridge father also said that a fellow parent who had received the principal’s e-mail forwarded it to him, but he noted that he found it lacking.

“It seemed pretty lame to me, pretty euphemistic,” he said. “It didn’t say the controversy had to do with race . . . it didn’t say anything to enable me to understand the context of what my daughter brought home to me on Friday.”

Summers said he felt disappointed with the way the administration handled the incident, and said that it led him to have to explain the hateful word to his daughter.

“She didn’t know what it meant. It was the first time we had to have this racial conversation,” he said. “I would have preferred to have it in a more structured way.”

Summers also said in an e-mail that the lunch room aide being African-American herself “only deepens the (apparently missed) opportunity to learn from this.” He said he wished the school district would implement a race education curriculum to help students understand the issue.

Cambridge Superintendent Kenneth N. Salim.GLOBE FILE/HANDOUT

The superintendent said in his statement that the aide’s language was “unacceptable for any child or student to hear, and we deeply regret the negative impact that this staff member’s words may have had on students.”

“We are working with the principal to answer any questions and support community conversations about race and racism within all of our schools, whether or not they were directly involved in this incident,” the statement said.

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Nearly 20 percent of the students enrolled at the school last year were African-American, according to Massachusetts school district statistics.

This is not the first time Cambridgeport School has made headlines. Last fall, a library media specialist at the school wrote in a blog post that she would not accept 10 Dr. Seuss books donated by first lady Melania Trump.


Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.