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Claudia Alves, the principal of Poulsbo Elementary School in Poulsbo, Washington, should be fired for using the N-word to describe African Americans while teaching her black, fifth-grade students. Instead, Alves has been placed on a leave of absence while the school district investigates her use of the N-word.
Any use of the N-word is intolerable in a public school, especially when teachers are hired to shape the minds of young students. When did it become acceptable for educators to throw around the N-word in class as casually as taking roll in homeroom?
Here’s what happened: When a group of students voiced their concern with saying “Negro” during rehearsal for a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. play, Alves allegedly attempted to explain the difference between a “Negro” and a “nig***.” According to local media reports, Shawna Smith, the mother of a Poulsbo fifth-grader, said students in her son’s class were uncomfortable with the word “Negro” in a play they were rehearsing about Martin Luther King Jr. Smith is white, and is married to Matthew Smith, who is black. Alves explained to Smith’s son that it was acceptable to use “Negro” because it is not offensive like “Nig***”. Alves later told the Herold Post, "I never used the word to upset the student.n'I did use that word, and that word is upsetting, and I thought in the context of what we were talking about, it was all right.
Claudia Alves, principal of Poulsbo Elementary School in Kitsap County
Alves’ use of the word upset the student, who told his mother. Smith’s son, according to reports, was so upset by the term “Negro” that he refused to participate in the play. But then, for some unexplained reason, Alves used the N-word again – this time on the phone with Smith’s husband and she was suspended two days later. Alves deliberately used the N-word a second time and that bigoted behavior should be a firing offense. However, Smith does not want Alves to be fired and described her as 'a great woman. She prefers that Alves and others undergo cultural awareness training. Smith continued to say, "My family is starting to feel uncomfortable in the community. Some people have turned the issue into a “personal attack,” making comments about her son and the family. 'I just hope this all ends soon."
Poulsbo Superintendent Patty Page sent a letter to parents informing them of the incident and the ongoing search for an acting principal. Sadly, the Poulsbo Elementary School incident is just one of many similar N-word episodes that seem to be permeating America’s public school system. She wrote, "We are working diligently to have an acting principal in place as soon as possible, and will notify you as soon as the person has been identified. 'Providing a positive learning environment for every child is very important us."
It’s not just a local issue confined to Poulsbo. It’s a troubling pattern in public schools across the country. In Chicago, for example, a white school teacher who was suspended last year for leading a class discussion about the “N-word,” race relations and racism, has sued the school district for what he sees as unjust punishment. In Philadelphia, racially charged text messages were behind the resignations of two school administrators. A 100-page transcript provided by sources last year revealed a series of N-word-laden text messages were exchanged between Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como and Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato. The messages were written and received on district-issued cell phones. And last year, during a Hartford, Connecticut magnet school field trip, black students were told by teachers to participate in a slavery reenactment, complete with use of the N-word, where students had to pretend their instructors were slave masters. They were also told to pretend to pick cotton and to imagine they were aboard a slave ship.
The blatant use of the N-word by public school teachers didn’t start last year. In 2008, in Louisville, Kentucky, a Valley Traditional High School teacher, Paul Dawson, was suspended for 10 days for telling a black student: “Sit down ni***.” Dawson said he felt comfortable using the N-word because black students use the N-word liberally and he felt by using the N-word, he had a better connection with his students.
So what should America’s public school administrators do about this pattern of racism in our schools? Do they need to do a better job of vetting teachers? Should schools offer mandatory cultural sensitivity training classes? How do we stop teachers from using the N-word in classrooms while teaching black students?
What do you think?