The parents of a Sanford elementary school student say they are disappointed and upset that a school administrator used a racial slur when speaking to their biracial son.

Jessica Gouin and Neil Jarrett said an administrator at Willard School used the racial slur when talking to their 9-year-old son about teasing other students and about the effect of hurtful language. Their son, who is in fourth grade, now feels uncomfortable going to school and they question if the administrator should be working with children, they said.

“At this point, my son is having a hard time going to school,” Gouin said.

Sanford Superintendent Matthew Nelson confirmed that an administrator at Willard School was working with a student when she used a word that “was not appropriate and is never appropriate.”

“In trying to make a point that language can hurt, she used an example that was not OK,” Nelson said. “It was done in an inappropriate way. She realizes that. It was not acceptable.”

Nelson said he cannot confirm the name of the employee involved or speak about possible disciplinary action because it is a personnel issue.


“In a situation as important as this, we look at it as a learning situation,” he said. “There will probably be a combination of disciplinary action, education and a big restorative practice piece as we address the situation. We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The administrator identified by the boy’s parents as having used the slur did not respond Monday to an email seeking comment on the incident.

Gouin said the incident started on Sept. 27 when she got a call from an administrator at Willard School saying her son, Javon, had gotten in trouble on the bus for making fun of other students. Javon told her he had been called to the office and the administrator asked him why he made fun of other students. Her son said that when he told the administrator he had been playing around, the administrator said, “If we were talking and I called you a (racial slur) and said I was joking, how would you take that?” Gouin said.

“My son, as a biracial child, knows that is a very inappropriate word we do not use,” Gouin said. “I was honestly sick to my stomach.”

Jarrett, Javon’s father, met with the school’s principal and the administrator who spoke with his son, and the administrator repeated the word she had said to his son, adding further upset and frustration to the situation.

“I was disappointed she did that. Now I’m worried about my kid going there,” Jarrett said.


Nelson plans to meet with the student’s parents to do his best “to repair harm that was done unintentionally.”

“We want an open and bias-free environment,” he said. “We didn’t do it appropriately and fell short on that.”

John Roux, chairman of the Sanford School Committee, said Nelson informed the board about the issue at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night. Roux said the committee took no disciplinary action on what he described as a personnel matter, but said his colleagues were in general agreement that the improper use of language can be hurtful.

“We don’t condone what happened,” Roux said.

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