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Wellesley school links graffiti to Metco teen

WELLESLEY -- The threatening and apparently antiblack graffiti scrawled in a bathroom stall at Wellesley High School was the work of a black teenager enrolled in the school through the Metco desegregation program, officials said yesterday.

The graffiti, which said the school would "burn" on Oct. 15 or 17 and that "there will be no blacks," had prompted a police investigation and public concern about racism in the hallways of one of the state's top-ranked high schools. But the allegation yesterday that its author was a Metco student added a layer of mystery to the discovery and opened new questions about the intent of the message. References to Metco and to a faculty member's car were written beneath the graffiti, police said.

Police and school officials last Thursday announced that they planned to seek charges against a Wellesley High student for writing the graffiti, although they stressed that the teen had not intended to carry out his threats.

The student accused of writing the graffiti and his mother declined to be interviewed at their Boston home yesterday. The 16-year-old boy has been enrolled in Wellesley public schools through the voluntary Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program since early elementary school.

Wellesley police plan to charge him with making threats and with malicious destruction of a school building in Norfolk Juvenile Court this week, Deputy Chief William Brooks said. The youth also faces a disciplinary hearing that could lead to expulsion.

The boy's lawyer, Michael Rich, said he hopes to work out a compromise with school officials to avoid criminal charges. He chalked the incident up to adolescent angst.

"The way I understand it, he is a rather confused young man and was feeling pressured and emotionally distraught, and that may have led to whatever he did or has admitted to doing," Rich said.

The graffiti, discovered Oct. 7, read, "On October 15 or 17 the school will burn and there will be no blacks in our schools." Swastikas were drawn nearby. Another slur, which police and school officials quoted as "Niggers die," was on the same stall, and Brooks said police are still trying to determine who wrote that. The boy denied writing that line, police and school officials said. A handwriting expert was brought in to analyze the writing, and some Wellesley High teachers viewed the graffiti to see if they could identify the handwriting.

The matter is the latest event to catapult Metco into the news. On the first day of school in Wellesley, a black kindergartner who lives in the town was mistaken for a Metco student and placed on a Boston-bound bus. Metco parents discovered him when he was dropped off in Dorchester, and his family was called to pick him up. Then last week, two prominent talk-show hosts on WEEI-AM were suspended for two weeks for comparing a gorilla that escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo to a Metco student waiting for a bus.

Whether the teen meant the graffiti as sarcastic commentary on those two events remains unclear.

In some respects the graffiti echoed a June incident at Boston Latin School, when a black teacher created a poster that read, "No Black Need Apply" for positions to teach advanced placement courses. The teacher said last week he intended the flier as satire after a popular black teacher was removed from teaching AP economics courses.

Yesterday, Metco executive director Jean McGuire called the Wellesley graffiti an "extreme" way for the student to show unhappiness with his experience at school.

"Usually when kids do something like this, it's a cry for help," said McGuire.

She said she expects the boy to face the same disciplinary consequences as would a Wellesley resident who attended the high school.

Wellesley school officials said the system would remain a strong supporter of the Metco program. At the high school's dismissal yesterday, Metco students bounded onto two waiting buses. Most would not comment on the situation, except for one young man who said the alleged author is "a real cool kid."

Deborah Ward, the school's Metco coordinator, said the students were pulling together.

"It's like having a sibling who's in trouble," Ward said. "We're all one. Most of the kids will rally around that person."

The day after the graffiti were discovered, Wellesley students and parents gathered to discuss the racial atmosphere at the mostly white school. Following the latest revelations, parents will meet again, and the student newspaper is planning a special edition. Meanwhile, students will stage an assembly where classmates will talk about their own histories and backgrounds, said principal Rena P. Mirkin.

"We can't say we don't have issues of race," she said. "In fact, we do."

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