A Wake Forest High School teacher has been punished for not dealing with the racial insults and harassment in his classroom that triggered a viral video of a student throwing a classmate to the floor.
Wake received national attention after a video was posted online showing 15-year-old Micah Speed, who is black, pulling a white classmate at Wake Forest High School to the floor twice on March 2, including once after the white student called him a “black piece of (expletive).”
In a letter received this week by Speed’s family, Wake Forest High Principal Patti Hamler said an investigation confirmed that Speed had been subjected to ongoing racial bullying and harassment by the other student.
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Hamler said the investigation did not determine that marketing teacher William Sullivan knowingly ignored, condoned or supported the harassing behavior that took place in his classroom. But she said Sullivan did not intervene as tensions escalated on March 2.
“Our review confirmed that your son was subjected to racial bullying and harassment and that, on March 2, 2017, his marketing teacher did not respond effectively to the situation in the classroom,” Hamler wrote in the letter to Yolanda Speed, Micah’s mother.
Hamler said Sullivan was suspended without pay as a result of the incident. Sullivan could not be reached to comment Thursday.
Hamler said the student who bullied Micah was disciplined and has not been at the school since March 2. The bullying and assault charges from Micah’s five-day suspension have been removed from his student record.
In addition, Hamler said the school is reminding staff about policies on bullying and bringing in a third party to train students on racial equity and anti-harassment measures.
Yolanda Speed said in an interview Thursday that she feels a burden has been lifted now that her son’s accusations have been confirmed. But Speed said the fight isn’t over to combat racial discrimination in schools.
“No, I don’t have any trust in the Wake County Public School System,” Speed said. “I do not. But what I do have trust in is the community and in the parents.
“We’re the ones that are going to have to step up. We’re the ones that’s going to have to hold them accountable.”
Micah was initially suspended for 10 days. But a friend rallied to his defense on social media, saying that Micah was reacting to months of racial harassment and a death threat from the student that were not dealt with by the school.
Students held protests at the school in support of Micah, whose suspension was reduced to five days. Speed credits the reaction to the viral video and the advocacy of Geraldine Alshamy at Mary Magdalene Ministries with helping her son.
The outcry also resulted in Hamler and a member of the district’s Human Resources Department conducting an investigation in which 19 students and five staff members were questioned.
Hamler said the investigation determined that on March 2, Micah and the other student were “roasting” each other with references to numbers of sexual partners and the white student’s eyebrows.
But Hamler said the comments escalated and the other student referred to Micah as being “black as a coffee bean.” Hamler said the other student told Micah he should name his children “Crackhead and Convict.”
She said the other student showed Micah “a violent video on his smart phone and spoke about shooting Micah and his family.”
Witnesses also confirmed that the other student made offensive racial comments to Micah on prior occasions, according to Hamler’s letter.
In addition to the March 2 incident, Hamler said the review determined that a group of students in the marketing class, including Micah and the other student, frequently joked about Nazis and the Holocaust. Hamler wrote that students gave a sarcastic Nazi-style salute to Sullivan and made jokes about Hitler and Jews in class.
Hamler also said that Sullivan admitted to saying the word “OK” as “Otay” as a joking and “inappropriate” reference to a speaker he had seen at a conference who had a speech impediment.
“It is clear that the classroom environment was such that students freely engaged in inappropriate comments, including racial and ethnic jokes and ‘roasting’ of one another,” Hamler wrote in the letter. “It is also clear that this classroom atmosphere created the opportunity for the specific bullying and harassing behavior directed to Micah on March 2, 2017.”
Although the investigation was critical of Sullivan, Hamler defended a different teacher shown on the video breaking up the confrontation. Hamler wrote that the female teacher acted appropriately to intervene in the situation.
The Wake Forest incident was one in a string of recent racially charged incidents on social media involving Wake students. School leaders have promised to address the racial issues in North Carolina’s largest school district.
“Racism has no place in the Wake County Public School System,” the school district said in a statement Thursday. “We deeply regret that Micah Speed was subjected to racial insults and threatening statements at Wake Forest High School.
“His experience, his courage in sharing it with others, and his mother’s involvement have helped renew and rekindle an understanding of how much work is still needed to realize our shared vision of a diverse school community.”
Yolanda Speed said the experience has stripped Micah, a member of the school’s football team, of his innocence of being a kid.
“Now I have to tell him to go walk on eggshells because you have an X on your back,” she said. “How much fun is that going to be for him going through his high school years walking on eggshells because every little thing that he does or doesn’t do is under a microscope?”