A viral social media post led to a police investigation at Chaska Middle School East after a student found a racial slur written three times on his gym shirt last week.
Mother Ashleigh Bursch turned to social media, looking for advice from other parents, after she received a message from the assistant principal, spelling out the N-word, when he reported the T-shirt incident to her.
The post now has over 1,130 shares and 1,600 reactions, and caught the attention of several local television stations.
The school is investigating the matter and hasn’t determined who is responsible, said Brett Johnson, Eastern Carver County Schools director of community relations.
“The incident reported in the news is not a reflection of the culture or climate in any of our buildings. We are taking this matter very seriously. We continue to investigate, and the Chaska Police Department were involved. When we know who was responsible, there will be significant and appropriate consequences,” stated Superintendent Clint Christopher, in a message to parents.
That wasn’t the first time eighth-grader Taylin Bursch was bullied, said Bursch, at their home in the city of Carver, where the family moved in 2016.
Ashleigh listed past incidents, including one time last year when a camera at the school showed a student smashing Taylin’s school-issued Chromebook, she said. He has had his shirt torn; been called a “monkey” many times; and been kicked in the area behind his knees, she said. Taylin has Osgood-Schlatter disease, which means that he has weak knees due to his fast growth, she added.
“I expected more last year. I think they should have stepped up and sent an email to parents addressing the racial tension,” she said. “It’s one thing if it happens once or twice, but then if it gets to the point where we are at, I think it’s time for some type of change or preventative measures.”
Since the incident, Taylin has been staying home from school and completing his assignments. The school has provided a tutor, Ashleigh said on Tuesday. She is unsure if Taylin will return to that school or switch to another.
“It does make me fearful, what kid is using a word like that and what are they capable of and if Taylin is safe at school?” she said.
Taylin found the shirt in his gym locker at around 11:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3.
“I felt pretty mad about it, and kind of worried because I thought I was going to have to pay for it,” he said. The middle school student had lost his shirt a few times before and was nervous to ask his parents to pay for a new one.
“He left the locker room and he brought the T-shirt to a teacher he was more comfortable with, and he just gave it to her and said ‘I need a new T-shirt, this has bad words written on it, but I’m scared I have to pay for a new one,’” Ashleigh said.
At around 3 p.m. she received an email from the school’s assistant principal, spelling out the word.
“I chose to go to social media and just express my story and it was really just to get advice and to ask other people that have been in this situation (for advice).”
“That word was not used as a slur in the email. It was a description to the parent on what had happened on that day,” Johnson said, adding that the intent was to clearly communicate the incident.
“The message the assistant principal wrote was within hours (that) this occurred in the school. The assistant principal was being very responsive in getting information out to parents as quickly as possible,” he continued.
“I think hearing the parent through the media, it gives us pause to say ‘OK, the next time we have to communicate something like this, is there a better way to do it,’” Johnson added.
Since the media whirlwind, Taylin said he’s received a lot of support from friends and many have reached out to Ashleigh in support.
“There was a lot of people reaching out to me,” he said.
The family has never had any issues at the other schools, Ashleigh added. Her husband coaches basketball, two of their children attend Chaska High School and two attend Carver Elementary School.
“We’ve invested our family into this community,” she said. “It’s not a terrible school district, but there is a problem that I want fixed.”
If staff find those responsible for the words on the T-shirt, they will be reprimanded, Johnson said.
“A big part of the consequence is education about that word, the history of that word, what it means when you say that to someone and why it it so hurtful,” Johnson said, adding staff would determine other consequences for the perpetrator.
The range of consequences outlined in district policy cover everything from a conference to expulsion, Johnson stated, in an email. (See attached information for a range of consequences.) "Specifics depend on the facts and circumstances of the situation, which have not been determined in this situation, as it is still under investigation," Johnson stated.