Published in the January 22, 2016 edition

MELROSE — As details emerged last week about the exact nature of reported racist remarks uttered by a now retired teacher to a middle school student in 2014, Melrose’s chief educational officer again had to go on the defensive vowing to improve the atmosphere for all students throughout the district.

Last week, Supt. of Schools Cyndy Taymore issued a statement regarding the completion of a federal investigation into a complaint that a middle schooler’s civil rights had been violated. Also, on Saturday — two days before we remembered the legacy of slain civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the Boston Globe printed the federal findings, including what the retired teacher allegedly said to the student.

“This week,” Taymore wrote, “I received formal notification that the Office of Civil Rights had completed its investigation into a deeply unfortunate incident that occurred during the 2013-2014 school year. I would like to thank the staff at OCR for their diligent work in this matter and for their continued support as the Melrose Public Schools heal from this chapter in our history and continue to come together.

“The findings, combined with the Resolution Agreement reached by Melrose Public Schools and OCR in December, give us the framework we need to successful​ly address the concerns of the Office of Civil Rights and the community​​​. We are completely dedicated to upholding and realizing the conclusions set forth in the December agreement.

“While the incident in question involved employees who no longer work in the district, I acknowledge that much work remains. As superintendent, that commitment starts at the top. I am committed to ensuring that no student ever faces institutional discrimination based on their race, skin color, religion, origin or any other demographic. We have already put a number of policies and programs in place over the past two years and we will continue to announce additional programs and training initiatives meant to ensure that the Melrose Public Schools are welcoming and inclusive for all.”

The Boston Globe said the Veterans Memorial Middle School teacher “referred to a ‘plantation’ while reprimanding a black student in April 2014 and later said the student spoke to her like a slave would to a master, newly released findings from civil rights investigators show.

“The findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights were obtained by the Globe on Friday and shed light on an incident that prompted school officials to place the teacher on paid leave before ultimately transferring her to another building. She later retired.

“Neither the federal government nor the Melrose Public Schools have identified the instructor or the male student.

“The student reported that the teacher asked him and his friends to come back into the library from the hall and he said, ‘Coming, Ms. [Teacher]” in a high-pitched voice. She allegedly responded, ‘are you coming back to the plantation’ or ‘Come back to the plantation,’ the civil rights office said.

“A staff member told investigators that she heard the remark as well, and reported that the teacher said, ‘What are we, going back to the plantation?’

“According to federal investigators, the instructor did not deny making the plantation reference during a meeting with the principal and assistant principal.

“‘During this meeting, and subsequent inquiries, the Teacher stated that she could not recall exactly what she had said but acknowledged she made a statement to the Student to the effect of ‘don’t talk to me like you’re on a plantation,’” said a letter from the civil rights office detailing its findings.

“The teacher expressed a willingness to apologize to the student and a meeting with the two was ‘promptly held’ with administrators present, the letter said.

“At that meeting, she apologized ‘for any misunderstanding that may have upset the Student’ and said he should not feel subservient to her or demean himself, according to the document.

The instructor also described the student’s high-pitched “Coming, [Teacher]” statement as “akin to a remark that a slave would make to a ‘master,’” the letter said, adding that the student also apologized for being disrespectful.