N-Word vs. Negro: Principal Suspended for Her Explanation

By Albert Lin

A Washington state elementary-school principal has been placed on paid administrative leave after she used the N-word multiple times in conversations with a biracial student and his parents.

Claudia Alves, Principal of Poulsbo Elementary School, was put on paid administrative leave on Jan. 21, according to North Kitsap School District Superintendent Patty Page. An independent investigator is looking into the situation, but Page told the North Kitsap Herald that the move is not considered a disciplinary matter. In an email to parents, Page wrote, “Providing a positive learning environment for every child is very important to us.”

On Jan. 15, Jassiah Smith, an 11-year-old fifth-grader, and his classmates questioned the use of the word Negro in a play for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Alves tried to explain that the word is not the same as the N-word. “I said I understood that he would never use the N-word, but this is very different,” Alves told the Herald. “What the play is about is the Jim Crow laws, and they used the word ‘Negro.'”

The problem Alves actually used the N-word. Jassiah’s mother, Shawna Smith, called the next day to complain, saying that she is not sure why the N-word is not held to the same standard as curse words. In her conversation with Alves, Shawna Smith says that Alves used the N-word two more times.

When Alves called the boy’s father, Matthew Smith, who is Black, a few days later to apologize, she used the N-word again.

Shawna Smith says she doesn’t want Alves to lose her job and called her “a great woman.” She also says that she has begun to hear whispers about her son and her family around town, and that some people have turned the issue into a “personal attack.”

“I just hope this all ends soon,” she said.

Interestingly, Smith is scheduled to begin work as a substitute secretary for the school district, and Matthew Smith coached the North Kitsap High School boys’ basketball team for four years.

Alves has her share of support. A member of the Poulsbo Elementary’s PTSA told KOMO-TV, “We all felt like it was a teachable moment, and know that [Alves] would never use this word casually, loosely. She was using it within historical context. Everyone that I was with was in support of the principal.”

Former CNN commentator Roland Martin, who is Black, blasted the controversy on his new show, NewsOne Now: “This, to me, is stupid. If you have a teacher, who is trying to teach, and explaining the N-word and Negro, and throw in colored and let’s say throw in African-American, why do you suspend somebody who is trying to teach”

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