By KIPP ROBERTSON
and RICHARD WALKER
North Kitsap Herald staff
POULSBO — Poulsbo Elementary School principal Claudia Alves called a student’s family to apologize for her use of the N-word during her discussion with the student on how the word differs from other words.
While on the phone with the student’s father, who is African-American, she used the word again.
Alves was placed on administrative leave Jan. 21, according to an email to parents from Superintendent Patty Page. The decision to place Alves on leave was made that day, according to Page.
The district has an independent investigator looking into the matter. Page told the Herald that the leave is not considered “discipline.”
In her email to parents, Page wrote that Alves “is on a leave of absence while we investigate a situation that occurred recently. We are working diligently to have an acting principal in place as soon as possible, and will notify you as soon a[s] the person has been identified.
She added, “Providing a positive learning environment for every child is very important us.”
The issue arose when Alves used the N-word to explain to an 11-year-old fifth-grader how the word “Negro” was not the same; the student and others had said they weren’t comfortable using the word “Negro” in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day play.
Alves said she never used the word to upset the student.
“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,” Alves said in a previous interview with the Herald. She said she explained that what has been considered appropriate has changed over the years, but that the N-word was never appropriate “no matter the period of time.”
Alves’ use of the word upset the student, who told his mother. The mother, Shawna Smith, called Alves who, in explaining what had happened, used the word again more than once.
Brenda Ward, the North Kitsap School District’s director of elementary education, intervened. She said Alves’ use of the N-word “wasn’t necessary” in order to describe how it was different from another word.
Ward talked separately on Jan. 17 with Smith and Alves, and had a followup conversation with Smith’s son to clear up “some confusion about the message he heard from the principal,” Ward said.
On Jan. 17, Ward said Smith and Alves were to meet the following week to discuss “how to bring more of an understanding into our education system,” Ward said. “It’s a good opportunity to review what we have in place to raise cultural awareness.” She added, “We want to make sure we’re addressing the issue appropriately.”
But by Jan. 21, Alves — an educator for 34 years — was on leave.
Smith does not want Alves to be fired, and characterizes her as “a great woman.” She prefers that Alves and others undergo cultural awareness training.
Smith did say her 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,” Smith said.
Smith is scheduled for orientation next week so she can begin work as a substitute secretary for the North Kitsap School District.
Her husband, Matthew Smith, has been involved with the district for about five years. He was a coach of the North Kitsap High School boys basketball team for four years; he coached Kingston High School girls basketball last season.
The issue is left to Superintendent Page to determine the course of action. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction was not involved as of Jan. 23.