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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ABCs and the N-word. Her t-shirt got this second grader into trouble.

Do you think the school officials overreacted?

Amityville school targets 2nd-grader's 'N-word' T-shirt


Second-grader Jaiden Haber was sent to the principal's office -- not for bad behavior, but for her T-shirt's slogan.

Last week, the principal told Jaiden, 8, to change her shirt, which read, "N the 'N' Word" and "It's time!"

Jaiden's mother, Karen, 45, said teachers at Northwest Elementary in Amityville should have "seized the moment" to discuss the shirt because it aimed to encourage tolerance.

But district superintendent John Williams said the word's inflammatory effect outweighed the shirt's potential educational value. He said Amityville schools strive to regularly instill cultural lessons.

"To send a little white girl wearing this shirt into a very diverse district that is almost 90 percent nonwhite was not the way to address this word," he said yesterday. "It's a lightning rod."

A gym teacher noticed Jaiden's shirt and sent her to the principal, who asked her to change into a school shirt because hers was a "distraction," Williams said.

That violated Jaiden's First Amendment rights, said Tara Keenan-Thomson, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union's Nassau chapter. "All students have the right to wear what they want, and this does not stop at the school gates, regardless of content or how old she is," she said.

Karen Haber said she received some of the shirts from Intrigue Concepts Inc., of Roosevelt, as payment for work done. She distributed 17 of them during Jaiden's birthday party in school a month ago.

"I never expected it to be blown up like this," Haber said. "But innocently enough, Jaiden's made an impact on society -- maybe even history."

Jaiden said she didn't understand the statement she was making with her shirt. "My mom picked it out," she said. "She thought it would look nice on me. I don't know why they made me take it off."

Karen Haber said she should have explained the shirt to her daughter, but wanted to "keep her innocent.

"Some parents criticize me for putting it on her since she's so young," Haber said. "But when I hear a 5-year-old tossing around that word, I know I would stick it on Jaiden, even if she were a newborn baby."

One parent said cultural awareness should begin early. "Racial issues are still sensitive, but there needs to be a dialogue," said Angela Roberts, 27, who was picking up her nieces from Northwest Elementary yesterday. "The school might have felt unprepared to deal with something like this. But it's a reality."

Another parent said racial education should be saved for high school. "You need to start somewhere and sometime," said Elizabeth Jex, 29, "but does it have to start with an 8-year-old girl?"

Mr. Starks

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