A Maine mother says an assistant principal at her 9-year-old son's elementary school called him the N-word in a purported lesson on how words can hurt.
Jessica Gouin told NBC News she received a call from the administrator at Willard School in Sanford, Maine, on Sept. 27, informing her that she had spoken to her son, Javon Jarrett, for teasing another child.
"She was telling me that my son and a bunch of kids were making fun of a kid on the bus that day," Gouin said. "So I told her I would handle it."
When she spoke to her son later that day, Gouin said he told her that he admitted to the assistant principal that he had teased a classmate but said he was just joking around. The fourth grader told his mother that the assistant principal asked, "What if I call you a n----- and told you I was just joking around? How would that make you feel?"
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Gouin said she asked her son, who is biracial, if he responded and he told her he had ignored the administrator.
Sanford Superintendent Matthew Nelson did not return requests for comment Friday. Nelson confirmed to NBC affiliate WCSH in Portland, Maine, that the boy was called the N-word but would not say by whom, citing a personnel matter. The student body at Willard School was predominantly white in the 2016-2017 school year.
"At the end of the day, we screwed up, made a mistake," Nelson told the station. "I also think context is important and when you understand the context, it doesn't make it better but sometimes it helps to understand it."
Nelson said the individual who made the comment was trying to explain the effect of hurtful language.
"I can't comment on specifics, but I will let you know in cases as important and serious as this, we always try to make it a type of situation where there is proper discipline, also a big educational component and also a restorative component," Nelson told WCSH. "I'm confident we're addressing all three of those."
At a meeting last Friday with school administrators, the assistant principal apologized to Javon but used the N-word again, according to Gouin.
"She said, 'I was saying it so you could see how hurtful words are,'" Gouin said.
Gouin said it was only after she spoke to local media earlier this week that the superintendent took action. He told her that he wants the teacher to take a sensitivity course, Gouin said.
"I said, 'She’s been working with kids for 25 years-plus, what’s really going to help her at this point?'" Gouin said, adding her son is now afraid to go to school.
She said she does not believe the school district has done enough.
"I don’t want Javon or any other student to go through verbal abuse," Gouin said. "And I feel like the whole school system feels like nothing was wrong with what happened."
Janelle Griffith is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.