Wake Forest HS student subjected to racial bullying before viral incident, principal says

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WNCN) – The principal of Wake Forest High School said a marketing teacher failed to intervene in a situation between two students that escalated into a physical altercation in April.

Micah Speed received a five-day suspension after he knocked another student to the ground on March 2. Speed and his classmates said it was a reaction to ongoing race-related bullying. Speed’s initial punishment was for two weeks.

A video of Speed’s altercation with the other student went viral – sparking debate about how the school handled that incident and previous situations between Speed and the other student.

“It was just social media that made this a big thing. This is not a big thing for me. It’s not a big thing for Micah. This is huge for all of those children and their parents who had no avenue, no one to listen, no one who cared and it got [swept] under the rug,” Micah’s mother Yolanda told CBS North Carolina.

Yolanda Speed has been fighting her son’s suspension since. She wrote a letter to school in March saying the school’s staff did little to stop racial bullying toward her son.

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Two weeks ago, she received a response from Wake Forest High School Principal Patti Hamler that Yolanda Speed called a “victory.”

Read the letter

Hamler’s letter comes following an investigation into the March 2 incident and accusations that Wake Forest staff ignored bullying toward Micah Speed.

The school interviewed 19 students and five staff members as part of the review.

Prior to the videoed altercation between Micah Speed and other other student, the review found the two “roasted” each other while in their marketing class.

That roasting included comments about penis size, number of sexual partners and a student’s eyebrows, Hamler’s letter says.

The other student said Micah Speed was “black as a coffee bean” and should name his children “Crackhead and Convict.”

Hamler’s letter states the other student “spoke of shooting Micah and his family.” Other students confirmed to school officials the other student had made racially offensive remarks to Micah Speed prior to March 2.

The other student did not return to Wake Forest High School following March 2.

“It’s happened to so many other people. My son’s incident is minuscule compared to some of the other incidents that I heard. And what breaks my heart is that those got unnoticed,” Yolanda Speed said.

The review conducted by school officials found a group in Micah Speed’s marketing class made jokes concerning Nazis and the Holocaust. Students would give a “Nazi-style salute” when the teacher called for the class’ attention, the letter states.

The marketing teacher, William Sullivan, would also say “Otay” — which Yolanda Speed believed to be a reference to the Buckwheat character played by Eddie Murphy — instead of “OK.” The principal’s investigation found that the teacher wasn’t referencing Murphy’s character, but instead was in inappropriately referencing a speaker with a speech impediment he had once seen at a conference.

Yolanda Speed said Wake Forest staff failed to respond to reports of racial bullying.

But Hamler said he didn’t find any evidence that proved Sullivan turned a blind eye to racial bullying despite his classroom’s environment being “such that students freely engaged in inappropriate comments, including racial and ethnic jokes and ‘roasting’ of one another.”

Hamler’s letter says the classroom environment allowed the bullying and harassment that was directed towards Micah Speed on March 2.

Sullivan was suspended without pay in relation to these incidents.

Hamler said no evidence was found to support claims other teachers did not stop bullying or harassment towards Micah Speed.

Following the review, Micah Speed’s disciplinary record was revised. He was originally marked for “assault” and “bullying/harassment” following the March 2 incident.

Instead of “assault” and “bullying/harassment,” his record now shows only “fighting/physical aggression.”

Hamler said while she does not condone the Micah Speed’s physical aggression towards the other student on March 2, he was provoked into such actions.

Other changes at the school include stressing to the school’s entire administrative team the importance of tolerance and respect and being alert to bullying.

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