Category Archives: Parents and Children

If Seattle teachers’ strike has you wondering about Kitsap schools

Schools in North Mason and South Kitsap opened on schedule today. Bainbridge, Bremerton, Central Kitsap and North Kitsap schools opened Sept. 2 as planned. That’s not news … unless you’re North Mason celebrating the opening of a new high school.

Earlier this spring, there was talk among local union leaders of a possible long-term strike this fall to follow up one day-walkouts. Four of the six teachers’ unions (South Kitsap, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island) were protesting lack of progress in the state Legislature over funding of K-12 education. So if you’re a Kitsap or North Mason parent reading today about the the teachers’ strike in Seattle, you may be wondering if teachers on the Kitsap Peninsula will follow suit.

True, Kitsap and North Mason teachers, along with others in the state, have complained about stagnant wages, saying a teachers’ cost-of-living increase and temporary pay boost allocated by the state, is inadequate compensation to attract and retain high quality teachers. They say that the $744 million in new spending for schools approved in Olympia over the 2015-2017 biennium doesn’t meet requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

Seattle teachers have the same complaints, but they are also in the midst of contract negotiations. According to the article by the Associated Press, “The district has offered a pay increase of nearly 9 percent over three years, and the union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years. Phyllis Campano, the union’s vice president, said the district came back with a proposal that the union ‘couldn’t take seriously.'”

The strike, which began Wednesday, affects 53,000 students.

Teachers in Pasco, with 17,000 students, also are on strike.

But these strikes are mainly about local issues and not tied to the larger debate about education funding, according to Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, quoted in the AP article.

Most educators and legislators agree that the current system, which relies heavily on local levy funds, results in inequity in teachers’ pay and student opportunities from district to district. An overhaul is needed, most agree. In the meantime, districts negotiate with unions to supplement the state’s pay schedule.

North Kitsap School District recently completed negotiations with its teachers, and the school board on Wednesday (today) will consider the new contract.

With local schools starting on time, it would seem like talk of a strike has died down. But at least in South Kitsap, union members did consider a longer term strike, electing to hold off pending the Legislature’s response to recent court sanctions.

The state Supreme Court held the Legislature in contempt over McCleary and, in the absence of a special session, is fining it $100,000 a day. Nineteen senators, including Republican Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who caucuses with the Republicans, issued a follow up statement saying the court had overstepped its authority.

On Aug. 31, the South Kitsap Education Association opened the floor to discussion of a long-term strike, according to union president John Richardson. Members did not vote on a strike but approved a proposal to leave their options open. They authorized their representative council (leadership) to bring a strike motion before members in January, or not depending on progress the Legislature makes as it goes back into session.

“They’d like to do more action, but at this point, they’re not sure what will move the Legislature,” Richardson said. “Also, they want to see what happens with the contempt order.”

I have not contacted other local union leaders, since schools were opening as scheduled. I will be following this and other developments related to McCleary as the saga continues.

Chris Henry, education reporter for the Kitsap Sun

Head of special needs PTA down but not out

In May, we wrote about Zac Stephenson, the South Kitsap woman who started a PTA for parents of children with special needs.

Called SODA PTSA for “Support of Different Abilities,” the stand-alone, parent-teacher-student association, not affiliated with a single school, is chartered by the state PTA and is open to parents from all districts in Kitsap County. Stephenson wants to fills a niche for families like hers, whose special needs and interests aren’t always high on the radar of regular PTAs.
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Stephenson and her spouse Harmony have three children, Auri, 11, Toby, 4, and Sam 8, who has autism. Stephenson, a volunteer at Sam’s school Hidden Creek Elementary, wants to build a playground that children like Sam can enjoy. He prefers playing by himself, spinning and the feel of different textures.

In the midst of trying to get SODA off the ground, Zac and Harmony have had a rocky time that just got rockier.

Harmony since January has been receiving diagnosis and treatment of what turned out to be a chronic illness that affected her digestive tract. Harmony, the lone breadwinner of the family is not able to work at this time.

Zac, a stay-at-home-mom, has not been able to work for some time due to multiple health problems, including a work-related back and neck injury. Both women have had surgeries since January. There’s medication and therapy appointments for Sam. Toby, too, appears to have some form of disability, which his parents are sorting out.

On top of mounting medical bills, there was a fire last spring, started by the family’s Springer spaniel who knocked over a heat lamp trying to get at some baby chicks. And most recently, the couple has had car problems.

“It seems like we just keep circling the drain,” Harmony said.
On Aug. 20, Zac was trying to siphon gas out of one vehicle, which is not working, into another, which is. She used an electric pump that she didn’t know had a bare wire, and there was an explosion that set her on fire. Zac’s face was badly burned, and although she’s feeling better now, for some time she was crazed with pain.

In that state, she left the house of a friend on foot, and when the friend couldn’t immediately find her the alarm went out on Facebook that Zac was missing. “Apparently, I owe people in Port Orchard an apology,” Zac said. “It just kind of escalated. I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t anything that was planned. I was just in so much pain. Things had been really, really rough.”

Earlier this week, Zac said she is feeling better. Her face is healing, and the pain is manageable. The family is doing OK for food, between the food bank and public assistance. Harmony is applying for disability assistance, which will help right the ship. The family lives frugally — no cable for example — so they don’t need much to live on. But transportation remains a problem. The van is OK, but their truck needs work and the car is dead.

With everything going on SODA PTSA has been pushed to the back burner, but it’s not dead by a long shot, Zac said.

“The PTA is still in place,” she said. “I had talked to Harmony about stepping down because we have so much to deal with.”

On second thought, however, she will continue to head up the organization and still hopes to see its efforts toward fully accessible playgrounds spread to other schools and other districts.

If anyone wants to help with fundraising and seeking sponsorships, Zac would welcome it, but the best thing anyone could do is join SODA PTSA for $15 a year, she said.

For information on SODA PTSA or to join, contact Stephenson at 509-378-6263 or go to

To learn about forming your own special needs PTSA, contact your Washington State PTA regional director at Region 1 covers Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties and includes North Mason School District.

With school starting, what do you want to know?

If you’re like Brian Lewis, the Kitsap Sun’s coding guru, you may have left school supply shopping to the last minute. Well, we’re not exactly to the last minute yet, but getting close.

School starts Sept. 2 for most local districts, except South Kitsap and North Mason, which start on Sept. 9 (after our late Labor Day, Sept. 7).

Brian, a devoted uncle, had the bright idea to make his and your lives easier by compiling all school supply lists on one webpage, along with other relevant links.

As the Kitsap Sun’s education reporter, my theme for the upcoming school year is “here to serve you.” I’d like to focus on providing families with useful, relevant information about local schools, as well as state and national trends in education that affect your kids.

I compile the Kitsap Sun’s education stories (and other education news) on my Facebook page. You can always reach me with your questions or comments on stories by Facebook message (friend me please so messages don’t go in the dreaded “other” folder), by calling (360) 792-9219 or emailing

Some of the topics we covered last year were bullying, state funding for schools, teachers’ pay and the rolling-one day walkouts in which teachers’ protested for higher pay and smaller class sizes.

We also tried something new this year, offering live chats on trending topics, like the one we did on South Kitsap’s plan to bring ninth graders up to the high school.

In the upcoming year, I hope to dig into Common Core and find out how it’s playing out in the classroom, and how (if?) it’s impacting students’ lives and education. We hope to follow up on our series on discipline and equity by looking at the role of paraeducators, who work with students with disabilities. Statistics show these students are disciplined at higher rates that their peers. What’s with that? And I’d like to write about preparing students for college, not just the academics, but equipping them to navigate in this new environment (and — considering how much has been written about helicopter parents these days — being able to let them go).

Anyway, these are just a few of the ideas I have. I hope you’ll contact me with ideas for education stories that would be useful and interesting to you. I can’t promise we’ll get to all of them, but we’ll do our best.

P.S. Yes, I still cover South Kitsap, so stay in touch as well if you live or work in that part of the county.

Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun reporter
(360) 792-9219

Is your child ready for kindergarten?

As a follow-up to our story today on efforts to promote learning among preschool children, I share with you here the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills. This state-endorsed list (attached below) shows 22 skills that children should have mostly under their belts by the time they finish kindergarten.

Children are assessed in the fall (by October 31) through observation and looking at samples of students’ work. Schools that receive state funding for all-day kindergarten are required to to the WaKIDS assessment, which is used by teachers to figure out where individual students need help and by state and local policy makers, who study the aggregate data. Other schools can voluntarily participate in WaKIDS.

The state is phasing in fully-funded, all-day kindergarten, starting with the most impoverished schools. Because there are more schools added each year, you can’t compare data from one year to the next.

The assessment used by WaKIDS evaluates proficiency in 22 skills in six areas of learning: social and emotional, physical, language and cognitive development, literacy and math. Under social-emotional, for example, one question asks if the student “regulates own emotions and behaviors.” Under mathematics, you’ll find, “explores and describes spatial relationships and shapes.” Problem solving, the ability to carry on a conversation, identify letters, sounds and words … there’s a lot on the list. And, experts say, children entering kindergarten should have been working on these skills long before they’re enrolled in public school.

On the Kitsap Sun’s Facebook link to our story, “Districts start early to ready students for kindergarten,” there was a debate among readers about whether this push for early acquisition of skills is positive for children or just too much pressure.

While current policy on early childhood education (including the value of all-day kindergarten) remains open to debate, the importance of a richly stimulating environment during each developmental stage has been well documented, including by the Children’s Reading Foundation, a Kennewick organization that hosts the national Ready! for Kindergarten program. The program, in which South Kitsap, Bremerton and Central Kitsap take part, educates parents on ways to foster intellectual and social growth from birth on up.

The WaKIDS data from the 2013-2014 school year shows that 80 percent of the 38,443 kindergartners assessed already had physical skills that are “widely expected” by the end of kindergarten. In literacy, too, roughly 80 percent already had a good grasp. Social-emotional confidence and cognitive skills had been mostly mastered by about 75 percent. About 70 percent had good proficiency in language skills, but only 50 percent were end-of-kindergarten skilled in math.

One school official I talked to said kindergarten teachers must address the needs of children with a wide range of skills, from those who are able to do some things typical of an 8-year-old, while others are struggling at a 3-year-old level.

Let me repeat that these are skills tested on children at the beginning of the school year that experts say they should have fully mastered by the end of kindergarten.

If you are the parent of a child entering kindergarten, you may want to take a look at this list (below). The big take-away that I heard from teachers and early childhood experts while researching the story is that “each child develops at his or her own pace,” so don’t panic if they’re not hitting it out of the park in all categories. Read “Leo the Late Bloomer,” for a pick-me-up, if this is the case.

Finally, I’d love to hear how you take advantage of opportunities to foster learning in your preschooler, toddler or infant… what they call those “teachable moments.”
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P.S. This is a picture of my son Alex, who turns 30 on Friday, proof that time flies. This photo is not available for copying or reproduction. Thank you.

WaKIDS Assessment

When teenagers defy our expectations


On Monday when we heard the scanner call of a drowning at Island Lake my heart stopped a bit. My family had been there the evening before. My youngest, Apollo, he who cuts his own hair, had been swimming. It’s what you do when it’s warm out.

The picture on the left was taken that night from Island Lake Park. Sunset pictures were all over Facebook that night. This one is far from the best one.

There is no joy in learning it’s not your kid. There is no celebration in any of it.

Even learning that a group of about nine kids who were there swimming did all they could to save the boy’s life is overshadowed by the fact that as of Tuesday night that 12-year-old boy is in critical condition. I am, like much of this region, so impressed with what those kids did. That this boy has a chance to survive at all is because of them, and because of some adults who also happened by at the same time.

And yet, like everyone else, I want more than anything to hear that the boy will be OK. Then we can really celebrate what teenagers did. I think I can cast aside my job-mandated Olympian objectivity in saying that.

This, too. Today I got to talk to the mother of one of the kids. I said what I think anyone else would say, that no matter how this turns out those kids did the right thing.

Even if celebration is not in order, it’s comforting to know what happened. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that stuff happens beyond your control. We obsess over details and still miss things. Life happens at a pace that sometimes outruns us. There are times we need the village to step in. We don’t necessarily plan for it. We try to live like we don’t need it. And yet there are times we find ourselves thanking whatever god we acknowledge for the times angels in the form of other humans appear to save us.

Or to save our kids.

This time it was teenagers. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to give up on them, maybe even your own. Most times we find ourselves wondering what they’re capable of it doesn’t occur to us that they might be capable of saving a life.

UPDATE: Most of you know by now that things did not end as we hoped. Jeffrey Hentz died Wednesday morning.

Get a quick snapshot of how your child’s school measures up

On Saturday, we will run a story about struggling schools in Kitsap and North Mason counties, as identified by the State Board of Education.

The schools, identified in the Washington State Board of Education’s achievement index among the state’s lowest performing schools, are Cedar Heights Junior High School in South Kitsap School District, Hawkins Middle School in North Mason School District, Fairview Junior High School in Central Kitsap School District and Central Kitsap’s Off Campus Program.

The good news is that these schools have made some progress over the past three years with financial help and professional guidance from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. And they’ll continue to get that help, despite Washington State’s loss of a waiver under No Child Left Behind.

In the course of researching this story, I found a handy, dandy tool that every parent of a school-age child can find useful.

Low (and high) performing schools in Washington State are identified through data evaluated in the achievement index. About a year ago, the SBE complied the data (available in a jahonking Exel file if that’s your preference) into a user-friendly dashboard data tool that gives a visual snapshot of each school in the state.

I don’t think this data tool was widely publicized. At least I never saw a press release about it. So they may have given it a “soft rollout” as the saying goes. But maybe I’ve just been behind the curve. I do know that the state is moving toward better public access and transparency of data.

OSPI’s school and district report card, which offers a wealth of information, has been available for a long time. I use it regularly.

Find the achievement index here. From the main drop down window, select your district of choice, then your child’s school to view data on academic proficiency and growth among all students and subgroups of students who have historically lagged behind their grade level peers.

Notice that dark blue represents the highest tier, with dark green at the next level and light green in the middle. Orange and red signify the lowest tiers. Having orange or even red boxes doesn’t automatically raise a red flag, under the SBE’s high-low ID system, which takes into account data over past three years. The system also measures students’ relative academic growth rather than growth against a fixed standard, as under the federal No Child Left Behind standards.

In addition to struggling schools, the Board of Education also identified high performing schools, including 17 in Kitsap and North Mason, which were recognized by OSPI in April.

Event Sunday in Port Orchard calls attention to rare brittle bone syndrome

What if you were a kid, and even the slightest movement could cause your bones to break?

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That’s what life has been like since birth for RyAnn Lutz, 8, of South Kitsap. RyAnn suffers from Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) a genetic condition that cause bones to break easily. OI is also known as “brittle bones”. A person is born with OI and will have OI throughout their lifetime, according to Wishbone Day International, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the rare disease.

It’s not about the money,” said Wishbone members, including RyAnn’s aunt Geneva Flolo. It’s about public education.

The disease is so poorly understood, that when RyAnn was a baby, DSHS Child Protective Services investigated the family on more than one occasion, questioning the baby’s injuries. A family doctor went to bat for them, according to Flolo, defending Stephanie Lutz’s parenting of RyAnn and two older siblings.

“When RyAnn was born nobody was even Aware of OI,” Flolo said.

RyAnn has had 85 fractures and many surgeries. Specialists are so rare, the family must travel to Omaha, Neb., for the surgeries.

The disease has done nothing the break RyAnn spirit, her aunt says. “She’s a feisty little, sassy little fart and she’s just a doll.”

The family has organized a Wishbone Day event in Port Orchard from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Port Orchard Marina Park. They expect more than 200 people, including children with OI and their families from all around the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. The South Kitsap High School cheer squad will be there to cheer RyAnn and her buddies on in their journey.

Within the past couple of months the Make-a-Wish Foundation paid to have the Lutz garage transformed into a soft playground, where RyAnn can swing and have fun (almost) like a regular kid.

But Sunday’s event, as mentioned above, is not a fundraiser. Everyone and anyone is welcome. Wear yellow if you can, and look for the yellow balloons. Oh, and it’s a potluck.

Walking the Bud Hawk walk

The Central Kitsap School Board has not scheduled a conversation on the question of renaming Brownsville Elementary School after John D. “Bud” Hawk. It will likely be on the agenda for the March 26 meeting, but I have heard from a couple of sources that some will be at Wednesday’s meeting this week to air their thoughts. In preparation for that conversation, in an attempt to understand views on both sides of the question I asked the district to see all the responses to the online survey the district conducted about the question, particularly the spaces where people could weigh in with comments.

I should say up front that all three of my children went to Brownsville. One was there a few months, another a year and the other all seven elementary school years. Given that, we do have a sense of gratitude for the work that goes on inside the school. But I get paid to keep my feelings about an issue to myself, so if I had an opinion I wouldn’t tell you what it is. Besides, we don’t live in that area anymore and my youngest goes to Silver Ridge, so I don’t have a dog, or a bear, in that discussion.

So I leave it to the survey respondents to make the arguments. Here are a few samples:

John “Bud” Hawk was a great man who accomplished more in his lifetime than most people I know. He has also been recognized and memorialized in many ways as a tribute of thanks for his many years of service. For me personally, I feel strongly that Brownsville Elementary should remain, and a portion of the school should be named after Bud. Brownsville is a school with a wonderful family vibe and supportive community. Many of our families attended Brownsville as children and now watch their own children roam the halls of a school they love, one that has been called Brownsville for almost 60 years. In a time where everything moves so fast, information is shared so quickly, names and trends come and go at a rate most of us don’t remember them. I feel that offering some consistency, an anchor of sorts to our youth is crucial. Let Brownsville be that constant, that place where our children will look back and smile, that tangible memory that lets them know that not all things disappear … that some, very special places are kept as they are because of the powerful and positive impact they’ve had on so many.


When my family moved here our three grade school sons were among the largest number of students ever to attend Brownsville at one time. Within months Esquire Hills and Cottonwood opened, reducing the head count to one third. Through it all Bud Hawk kept his cool, maintained order, got to know the children and even cooked Thanksgiving turkeys for the Thanksgiving feast. He was phenomenal under tremendous pressure. He dealt with parents, students and teachers in a way each was heard and respected. For all that Bud did before he came to Brownsville and for his exemplary leadership as principal, John “Bud” Hawk deserves to be remembered in a lasting way. Please don’t flub this. Please name the entire school after a man whose shoes can never be filled by another person. Let this be his legacy.


He was an eyewitness to some of the most horrible things man can do his fellow man. And his reaction to that was to embrace the nurturing of children. He was motivated to make education his career because he knew it was important to help children., that the key to a peaceful world was happy children. His understanding of what was really important in life and his insight into how to change the world is at the heart of knowledge. And the heart of knowledge in any school is the library. I think the library should be named after him.


I attended Brownsville Elementary in the 1970s and remember Mr. Hawk fondly. Of all my school principals, he is the one I remember the most. What he did for our country in WWII is certainly deserving of renaming the elementary school where he dedicated many years of his professional life in his honor.

Nearly everyone supported naming at least a part of the school after Hawk, so it seems clear there is large support for honoring Hawk somehow.

Now, allow me to put on my best pinstriped suit to play advocate for the devil.

Many who opposed renaming the school spoke of how it could harm Brownsville’s “storied history” and “legacy.” Those are kind of big words to attach to an elementary school. What historic moment happened at Brownsville? What legacy at Brownsville is so unique that it couldn’t be found at other schools?

I was especially struck by the people who said renaming the school would be harmful to the memories of people who went there, to which I ask, “Why?” Would your memories be any less beautiful if the school you once attended wasn’t called Brownsville anymore? Did new people move into the house you grew up in? Did that make you sad? Did you get over it? How do the people who went to East High School feel about their old campus being turned into something else? How do Seabeck and Tracyton alums feel today? If they change the name of your school, it doesn’t change your memories.

On the flipside, let me still represent the devil in arguing the other case. A few brought up that the school is actually in Gilberton, some saying that calling it “Brownsville” was a compromise to appease people who really did live in Brownsville and were disappointed the school was not located there. I haven’t verified that. Despite all that, even though Brownsville Elementary School is in Gilberton, that argument ended a long time ago. The school has been there for years with that name, and renaming it Hawk isn’t going to right an old wrong.

Let me tell you a little of my history. Forty years ago I graduated from an elementary school named after a street. That much I knew then. What I didn’t know was the street was named after a former whiskey maker and rancher who helped settle the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. That’s something I found out about an hour ago, thanks to Wikipedia. The school’s website didn’t have any info on it. Nor did the high school named after John A. Rowland. I still don’t know who my junior high school was named after. This request is coming at a time when the emotions about and the memories of Bud Hawk are fresh. Years from now as more people pass through the class-picture-lined halls of the school there is the threat that the passion to remember the school’s namesake will diminish.

Naming a school after a hero is the most a school district can do, but it’s not nearly enough for what John D. “Bud” Hawk did. There have been principals, few of them maybe, who can match his impact on students. But as CK’s Superintendent Hazel Bauman said at a previous board meeting, there are not that many principals who were previous Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. When I read Hawk’s World War II story I was legitimately flabbergasted. Ed Friedrich, explained Hawk’s wartime exploits well in the story he wrote when Hawk died.

“On Aug. 20, 1944, German tanks and infantry attacked Hawk’s position near Chamois, France. He fought off the foot soldiers with his light machine gun before an artillery shell destroyed it and wounded him in the right thigh. He found a bazooka and, with another man, stalked the tanks and forced them to retreat into the woods. He regrouped two machine gun squads and made one working gun out of two damaged ones.

“Hawk’s group was joined by two tank destroyers, but they couldn’t see where to shoot. So he climbed to the top of a knoll with bullets flying around him to show them where to aim. The destroyer crews couldn’t hear his directions, so he ran back and forth several times to correct their range until two of the tanks were knocked out and a third was driven off. He continued to direct the destroyers against the enemy in the woods until the Germans, 500 strong, surrendered. He would receive four Purple Hearts.”

Then he came home and became a teacher and a principal. Or as the survey respondent quoted above said, “He was an eyewitness to some of the most horrible things man can do his fellow man. And his reaction to that was to embrace the nurturing of children.”

Whatever decision the district makes, this conversation should spark one commitment out of anyone interested in the question. No matter what decision is made about the renaming of the school, the students who go to school there should know well the story of what John D. “Bud” Hawk did in war, and then what he did in peace. For all the distinction and symbolism there is in naming a school or a part within the school after a hero, the greatest way to honor someone is to emulate someone. Whatever the district decides to do, the decision should be made answering the question that as students walk the halls Bud Hawk walked, what decision will more influence them to walk the life he walked, too.

An ‘Elise and Joey’ fundraiser update

On Sunday night dozens of Elise Fulton’s closest friends met at a South Kitsap church to raise funds for Elise and her son Joey to get a trip to Disneyland. The event was sparked by Elise’s wish that before she died that she and Joey, who is 2, would get some time together in the Magic Kingdom.

Elise, as we wrote in a story last week, has leukemia and doctors had recently told her she had no more than a few months left. Her final wish, in fact, was that Joey get to go to Disneyland and additionally to gather with relatives he’d yet to meet.

Phil Daubenspeck, associate pastor of the South Kitsap Family Worship Center said Sunday night’s event raised $18,500, more than enough to get Joey and his accompanying family to Southern California and to Montana for the chance to meet relatives.

Elise’s mother, Linda Fulton, said Elise in recent weeks became aware that she might not be around long enough to make the trip with Joey, but she wanted to make sure he got to go.

Elise was too ill to make it to Sunday’s event. She and her mom witnessed it via Skype. On Monday afternoon Linda Fulton said Elise was hanging in there. Cancer, and chemotherapy, has a way of making someone fragile, less able to battle off infections and the like.

For anyone still wishing to contribute, donations can be made at the Family Worship Center website at!elise–joey-miracle-fund/c1o7c, or to the “Elise & Joey Miracle Fund” at any Wells Fargo Bank. Account No.: 3773077320.

Our conversation about a word that starts with ‘N’

If I call my wife “Babe” I get no criticism.
If my wife’s former boyfriend, (Let’s name one: Monty) calls her “Babe,” well I kind of have a problem with it.

Our stories last week about the Poulsbo Elementary School principal placed on paid leave for using the “N” word, version one and version two, sparked quite the outcry about our PC culture, ways of educating, equivalent words and whether it’s fair that black people can use that word and no one else can.

There are a handful of things about this particular incident that are worth pulling out in ways that are easier here than they are in a news story. And to be clear, I won’t use the word in this piece or any of the stories. I see the point that when I write “the N-word” I’m making you think it. I get that. Louis C.K. does a comedy bit about that and the reason comedy is often so effective is because of how much truth there is to it. But, at the risk of taking a comedian literally, there are parts of his argument I do not agree with. And I feel better not saying it, just letting you think it. Or, if you don’t know what it is, causing you to go ask someone. I’m OK with that.

So, back to the point.

1. No one has said anything negative to me about Claudia Alves, the principal who is on paid leave. No one, that I know of, ever asked for her to be disciplined. I can even see where what has happened is technically not a disciplinary action, although I’m sure it feels like it. Parents have understandably come to her defense, and the parents at the center of this issue said they never asked for any disciplinary action to be taken.

2. The issue for the district, the way I understand it, was in the word’s repeated use. In fact, a North Kitsap Herald editorial makes that case clear as well:

“The school district’s director of elementary education said it was not necessary for Alves to use the N-word in explaining that difference. And it wasn’t necessary for her to use the actual word again, and again in discussing the issue with the student’s parents.”

What Patty Page, North Kitsap School District superintendent, confirmed to me, as well, is that Alves used the word even after the district talked to her about it. The district did not place Alves on leave after her first use of the word. The way Shawna Smith tells it, Alves used the word four times, at least once after she had been advised not to. After the fourth instance, Smith called district officials again. She did not ask for disciplinary action. Smith told district officials, “She’s not getting it,” Smith said.

3. Some were confused by what word caused the problem. It was not “negro,” though that word was troubling to kids in the class asked to use it several times in the play “Martin Luther King, Jr. 10-minute mini: Overcoming Segregation.” In the play the kids were asked to sing lines pulled verbatim from actual Jim Crow laws. Here’s a snippet of the script:

NARRATOR #7: On living and dying:
CHORUS A: All marriages between a white person and a negro are forever
CHORUS B: It is unlawful for anyone to rent an apartment to a negro person
when the building has white people living there.
CHORUS A: Every hospital will have separate entrances for white and colored
patients and visitors.
CHORUS B: At a cemetery, no colored persons may be buried in ground set
apart for white persons.

Neither “negro” or the other “N-word” are considered acceptable anymore, but one was never neutral. The Leonard Pitts Jr. column referenced in the Herald editorial addresses the N-word.

“The N-word is unique. It was present at the act of mass kidnap that created “black America,” it drove the ship to get here, signed the contracts at flesh auctions on Southern ports as mother was torn from child, love from love and self from self. It had a front row center seat for the acts of blood, rape, castration, exclusion and psychological destruction by which the created people was kept down and in its place. The whole weight of our history dictates that word cannot be used except as an expression of contempt for African Americans.”

“Negro” was for many little more than a description of race, but in the late 1960s began, and “began” is important, to fall out of fashion. Slate’s Explainer column offers this history:

The turning point came when Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase black power at a 1966 rally in Mississippi. Until then, Negro was how most black Americans described themselves. But in Carmichael’s speeches and in his landmark 1967 book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, he persuasively argued that the term implied black inferiority. Among black activists, Negro soon became shorthand for a member of the establishment. Prominent black publications like Ebony switched from Negro to black at the end of the decade, and the masses soon followed. According to a 1968 Newsweek poll, more than two-thirds of black Americans still preferred Negro, but black had become the majority preference by 1974. Both the Associated Press and the New York Times abandoned Negro in the 1970s, and by the mid-1980s, even the most hidebound institutions, like the U.S. Supreme Court, had largely stopped using Negro.

In the North Kitsap incident it was the lesser word that launched the use of the worse one, but it was the repeated use of the worse one that led to the paid leave.

4. It might seem a small point to many, but Alves was not “suspended.” She was placed on paid leave.

5. Answering why it’s OK for blacks to say the word and not other races skips over one point and deserves expansion on another. The first point is that many blacks argue against its use. Pitts did in his piece. “How can we require others to respect us when this word suggests we don’t respect ourselves?” he wrote.

Neal Lester, an English professor at Arizona State University, taught a course devoted to the N-word, and said this in a Southern Poverty Law Center Teaching Tolerance intervew:

“The poison is still there. The word is inextricably linked with violence and brutality on black psyches and derogatory aspersions cast on black bodies. No degree of appropriating can rid it of that bloodsoaked history.”

In addressing why there are different rules for non-blacks, I go to the first two sentences of this blog post. I have permission to say things to my wife that other people don’t. I mean, they can say it, but they shouldn’t expect there to be no consequences. If my wife and her sisters each called each other the B-word (not “Babe”), that wouldn’t give me permission to say that to my wife. I might not want my wife and her sisters to say that to each other, but I would also not argue that I should have the right, too. Nor would it mean the same thing. Her relationship with her sisters is different than the one she has with me.

The N-word, when said from a white person to a black person, carries a history with it that is different from the history when one black person says it to another. Perhaps you agree with Pitts that it still carries an oppressive energy no matter who says it, but you can’t deny that it’s different depending on who’s saying it.

And I like this answer, which is technically a question: Why do you want the right to say it anyway? Just don’t.

The video below comes from CNN and I think offers a pretty good treatment of the word, as good as you can get in 10 minutes. It addresses something we didn’t, the fact that there is no word you can use for white people that has anywhere near the meaning the N-word does. A word of warning: The N-word, the real one, is used several times.

Following the first story I got a call from a woman who said she was 92. She had no idea “negro” was no longer a word we use. She also said “I never say (the N-word),” only she used the real word. Later on in our conversation she said it again. Maybe that’s what we should be talking about, the act of saying what we “never” say.