An elementary school principal in the tiny town of Poulsbo, Wash. was suspended indefinitely this week because she used the dreaded n-word while explaining the difference between that word and the word “negro” to a group of fifth graders.
The incident — very nearly a perfect meta-commentary on race and political correctness in the United States — occurred during a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at Poulsbo Elementary School, reports area Fox affiliate KCPQ.
The principal, Claudia Alves, waded into a discussion between a teacher and some fifth-grade students who were upset because the word “negro” was part of a Martin Luther King Day play. The fifth graders just didn’t feel comfortable with the word, they said.
Alves attempted to explain the subtle ways in which the word “negro” carries notably different historical and social baggage than the n-word carries.
In the course of her clarification of the difference between the two words, Alves used the n-word a bunch of times—apparently, full-on and uncensored, both syllables and all.
One 11-year-old student was not satisfied with the principal’s explanation and, in fact, became more incensed. When he went home, he told his parents what happened.
The boy’s mother then filed a complaint.
Alves tried to call the boy’s parents to smooth things over, notes the North Kitsap Herald. The apology did not go well, however.
It probably didn’t help matters that she used the n-word again on the phone while speaking to boy’s father, who is black.
On Tuesday, the school district placed Alves, an educator with 34 years of experience, on paid administrative leave.
Also, the North Kitsap school district has hired an outside firm to investigate the situation. The principal won’t be able to return to work until that investigation is fully complete.
Alves told her side of the story to the Herald.
“I did use that word, and that word is upsetting. I thought in the context of what we were talking about, it was all right,” she said, noting that she also told the students that the n-word was never the right thing to say “no matter the period of time.”
The school district’s director of elementary education, Brenda Ward, told the paper that, in her view, the use of the word “wasn’t necessary,” even when describing what’s wrong with it.
Patrice Page, the North Kitsap Schools superintendent, agreed.
“We live in a society that has norms and acceptableness,” she said, according to the Herald. “I believe that principals and teachers have a normed reference in that and know what is socially acceptable and what’s not.”
Page added that the school has no actual rule banning the word.
According to KCPQ, the general sentiment among Poulsbo locals appears to be that the principal’s suspension is ridiculous.
“I think that she was trying to do something that she felt was right to explain something to her student and I’m her neighbor and we like her a lot,” said Corey McMillian, Alves’s next-door neighbor. “She’s invited me into her house and we’ve invited her into our house as well.”
For the record, McMillian is black.
Shawna Smith, the mother who filed the report against Alves also calls her “a great woman,” notes the Herald.
However, Smith says she does want Alves to endure cultural awareness training.