METHUEN — An African American high school math teacher found a racial slur on her desk, sloppily handwritten on a blank piece of paper.
The school district is leading the investigation into the incident, which Police Chief Joseph Solomon said did not rise to the level of a crime.
"It's inappropriate language, but it doesn't rise to the level of a hate crime, so at this time the school is handling the investigation and we're here to support them," Solomon said of the slur, which was discovered last week.
The derogatory word was the only word on the paper, according to a police report filed by School Resource Officer David Mambro. To be considered a hate crime, the word would have needed to be accompanied by a threat or used on three separate occasions.
"It's sort of like harassing phone calls," Solomon said. "One call doesn't qualify, but a phone call with a threat does."
About 7:30 a.m. last Tuesday, Principal Richard Barden told Mambro that the teacher found the note on "the desk that is against her desk." Barden said the teacher reported finding the note because "she was very upset and disturbed by the note."
The teacher was not identified by police or the school district.
According to the police report, Barden had the school's assistant principals interview students on the teacher's class list "to try to find the student or person who left the note."
The teacher "became visibly upset'' when.Mambro was speaking to her, he said.
On Friday, Superintendent Judith Scannell said the investigation is still ongoing.
"While I cannot share the details of any ongoing investigation due to confidentiality concerns, I want to assure you that the safety and well being of our students and staff is of paramount concern," Scannell wrote in an email.
When the note was discovered, early last week, Solomon said the Police Department had "no idea" who wrote the note or whether the culprit was a student or adult. It was unclear Friday if the school had made any progress in identifying who left the note.
Scannell said conducting the investigation was the district's "ethical obligation."
"As a school community, we have an ethical obligation to address any discrimination or harassment within our schools," she said. "We simply will not tolerate divisive acts that attempt to undermine the integrity or our core values."
When asked by phone about what consequences the individual responsible may face, Scannell said only that the district will "address this incident head-on when this is completed."
Solomon said the insult is "not something we normally see."
"In my recent memory, I can't recall having anything like that happen," he said.
Years ago, swastikas were found among graffiti markings in the city, but little in the way of prejudicial crimes have occurred in Methuen since, he said.
"Racially charged incidents, we really don't see them in Methuen," he said.