WESTFIELD — A 13-year-old girl is no longer enrolled at Westfield Middle School after her family said she was racially bullied for months. The latest incident happening during e-learning.
"She asked for the students to turn on their cameras and that's when the children begin chanting the n-word to Shayla when she turned her camera on," Shayla's mom, Brandi Johnson, said.
Students chanting the n-word over Zoom with a teacher on the call.
"I could hear it and then by the time that I stepped in front of the camera, they started chanting it again to me as a parent," Brandi said.
It's just one of the horrifying experiences Shayla Johnson says she has endured. The first, dating back to December.
"Coughing in her face and referencing her as a monkey and asking her if she was sexually attracted to orangutans," Brandi said.
"I was worried about what my parents might think," Shayla said. "I didn't want them to think that I was weak and that I didn't stand up for myself because I tried to but the words were just so hurtful."
"For a child to say something like that and feel comfortable enough to say something like that, that's a scary situation for me," Brandi said.
The family said they've had multiple conversations and meetings with the administration but the bullying never stopped.
"I felt like no one really cared about how I felt," Shayla said.
"It's out of your control and you want to be there for your child and protect them and I think that's what really hurts," Shayla's dad, Anthony Johnson, said.
Brandi posted what happened on Facebook. The principal then sent parents a video message the next day.
"As the principal of Westfield Middle School, it breaks my heart to say that those incidents described in the post were reported to Westfield Middle School administration," Principal Mike Hall said. "Westfield Middle School has worked hard to identify those individuals involved and will continue to investigate."
The Johnsons are calling for more training for faculty and staff on how to handle these situations swiftly and protect their students. They're also asking for parents to have conversations with their children and tell them that words hurt and racism is not okay.
"Then they'll have sympathy and also the knowledge to stand up and protect others that are seeing it and then they'll have the respect or feel comfortable enough to report it," Brandi said.
"One of our very own middle school student's experience was heartbreaking and as WMS Principal Mike Hall said last week, largely true," Dr. Sherry Grate, Westfield Washington schools superintendent, said at the school board meeting this week. "Racism, intolerance and harassment of our students and staff will not be tolerated."
An investigation began immediately and remains ongoing.
Here is the full statement from Westfield Washington schools Superintendent Dr. Sherry Grate:
I would like to share that I am grateful for the many emails, conversations, and meetings that I have had since my message was shared with our staff and community about equity. The concerns, the stories, the insight has stirred a great deal of emotion for those who are sharing and for me as I listen and learn. It has been raw, and painful, and yes-necessary.
And I want you to know, I hear you.
To be most effective, we must listen, and start not with a plan, but with inquiry.
We must start with - what are we trying to accomplish?
Our mission, as a district, is to develop positive learning environments for all our children: Provide rigorous and engaging experiences to prepare all children -socially, emotionally, and academically - for their future.
We acknowledge we have room to grow as a school district, and we are committed to the work it will take to ensure equitable treatment of all students. This work must be intentional, collaborative, and research-based.
We need to continually examine our policies, practices, and procedures to ensure we are honoring the identities of all students regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
The local and national sense of urgency to act has provided the catalyst for change we are all desperately seeking. I hear you! We can and must do this work together.
We have a district level equity team and Coordinator of Social and Emotional Learning who then works with equity or SEL teams at each school. While we have been working on growing in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion, we have also already begun looking at ways for us to be more inclusive, in the classrooms and outside the classroom, and more purposeful and deliberate in our actions.
Bias training, curriculum, recruitment processes, school clubs. Working with outside organizations to further identify our gaps, and with local parents who want to be involved in addressing racism, will be pursued. As other districts have done, we agree there are opportunities for growth regarding diversity and inclusion. There are many possibilities ahead of us on this equity journey. The School Board joins me in this commitment.
One of our very own middle school student’s experience was heartbreaking, and as WMS Principal Mike Hall said last week - largely true. What is also true are steps the district and WMS took to address these situations immediately and thoroughly. We take matters like this extremely seriously. Racism, intolerance, and harassment of our students and staff will not be tolerated. An investigation began immediately and remains ongoing. In addition, WWS offered additional guidance immediately to all our teachers about Zoom call protocols. In this particular incident, there are child privacy laws involved, and we cannot go into detail, we cannot share outcomes, or punishment, which I know can be frustrating as a parent, but steps to address the situation were put in motion swiftly.
Doing this work together, step by step, the Board and the district are committed to listening, learning and growing for the overall wellbeing of our students, staff and families.