On March 31, after more than a month’s effort to resolve the Blackwell Elementary Chinese New Year incident with LWSD failed, we filed a formal discrimination complaint against LWSD. LWSD superintendent and board were copied on this complaint.
Dear Mr. Patterson,
Recently, we received reports from the Chinese American community about a Washington Civil Rights Act violation at LWSD. After trying to resolve this violation concern with LWSD without success, we are now following the steps listed on the OSPI site (https://www.k12.wa.us/policy-funding/equity-and-civil-rights/complaints-and-concerns-about-discrimination ) and filing a formal discrimination complaint against LWSD for violating the Washington Civil Rights Act.
RCW 49.60.400 (Washington Civil Rights Act) states:
“The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
What happened at Blackwell Elementary School surrounding the incident of teaching Chinese culture and tradition during Chinese New Year clearly violated RCW 49.60.400.
On February 1st, the Chinese New Year, Mrs. Nicholson wore a Chinese gown to teach Chinese traditional culture to her class. According to the information we obtained, it was a very high-quality lesson. Mrs. Nicholson explained to her students that the outfit was gifted to her by a former student family. She talked about the student family and how she developed a relationship with them. The students watched Discovery Education videos about the Lunar New Year, then talked about Chinese tradition, talked about why things are red in Chinese culture, wrote numbers one to ten in Chinese, made Chinese lanterns, etc.
The school and district leadership, none of whom are of Chinese heritage, not to mention having lived experience of Chinese culture, later claimed that Mrs. Nicholson’s act of wearing a Chinese gown while teaching Chinese traditional culture was “cultural appropriation” and offended the Chinese American community. Mrs. Nicholson was made to issue both a verbal and a written apology to her class on February 11th.
Contrary to the school and district leadership’s false claim, “cultural appropriation” is a foreign concept to Chinese culture. Through its thousands of years’ development, Chinese culture has always been open and inclusive. Chinese culture actually welcomes people learning and experiencing their culture by wearing their traditional clothes, especially during the Chinese New Year.
WA Asians For Equality website has more than 100 comments from the Chinese American community supporting Mrs. Nicholson wearing the Chinese gown while teaching Chinese traditional culture.
More than 60 parents of the Chinese American students at Blackwell Elementary signed a letter supporting Mrs. Nicholson and requested the school and district issue an apology to Mrs. Nicholson and the Chinese American community.
We have identified the following violations of RCW 49.60.400:
1) Withholding information in an attempt to cover up discrimination against Chinese culture and the Chinese American community.
Many members of the Chinese American community have reached out to the school and district and requested detailed documentation on what has exactly happened since February 1st at Blackwell Elementary. None of them has received any documentation from the school or district. Requests for clarification of the district’s standard policy and procedure were not answered either. The school and district claimed that there were complaints against Mrs. Nicholson’s act, yet they were not able to provide sequenced details to back up their claim: When, where, and who complained? What were the exact complaints? How were the decisions made? Etc. The Chinese American community has not been treated fairly by the school and district. The school and district’s non-Chinese leadership made false claims about Chinese culture, damaged the reputation of Chinese culture, and threatened anyone who would want to experience Chinese culture, yet prohibited the Chinese American community from having equal access to the source of those false claims.
2) Chinese culture was singled out and targeted, and the Chinese American community was made an example of.
1) Mrs. Nicholson wore the Chinese gown on the morning of February 1st. She spent most of the morning in the classroom teaching students about Chinese culture. It was a fully packed morning, and she was only in and out of the classroom very quickly. In the afternoon, after Principal Eaton raised the concern with her, she changed back to her regular clothes. Given that not many people even had the chance to see what Mrs. Nicholson was wearing that day, and that she was cooperative after Principal Eaton talked to her, if the school’s goal was to address concerns, then anyone with common sense would agree that what Mrs. Nicholson did that afternoon timely and sufficiently addressed the concerns. Why did the school and district continue to make this an issue and make Mrs. Nicholson issue apologies to her class two weeks later?
2) There are only two Chinese students in Mrs. Nicholson’s class. Neither the students nor their parents complained about Mrs. Nicholson wearing the Chinese gown that day. As a matter of fact, not one single student or parent from Mrs. Nicholson’s class complained about Mrs. Nicholson’s act that day. Why did the school and district make Mrs. Nicholson apologize to her class on February 11th?
3) According to many Blackwell Elementary parents, it is very common to see the school’s teachers and staff wear other cultures’ clothes. Last June, during the aloha parade, school teachers wore Hawaii Hula outfits when handing out goodie bags and waving goodbye to students on the last school day. Even Principal Eaton was caught wearing a turban while posing for a yearbook photo. No one was made to apologize in those incidents. Why was wearing a Chinese outfit for teaching purposes labeled as “cultural appropriation”, while wearing outfits from other cultures for fun or photo opportunities was acceptable? Principal Eaton insisted that wearing a turban for a photo was acceptable, while wearing a Chinese outfit for teaching Chinese culture was not.
More than 48% of Blackwell Elementary’s students are Asian, and the majority of them are of Chinese heritage. Clearly, Chinese culture was singled out and targeted by the school and district. They wanted to make an example out of the school’s largest minority student body. As a result, Chinese culture was portrayed as unwelcoming, and people are now scared away from even considering sharing or experiencing Chinese culture. The entire Chinese American community feels the chilling message: stay away from Chinese culture.
If the school and district truly cared about the feelings of the Chinese American community, and were truly interested in learning about Chinese culture, they would have consulted with the school’s large Chinese American community. The fact is that the school and district did not consult any members of the Chinese American student families before they made the false claim about Chinese culture. And the school even put up road blocks to prevent shocked Chinese American parents from finding out the facts afterwards.
The Chinese American community denounces the false portrayal of Chinese culture and strongly condemns the school and district for targeting Chinese culture and penalizing the Chinese American community for their own agenda. “Cultural appropriation” runs in direct contradiction with everything that Chinese culture represents and stands for.
What we demand:
1) The school and district should immediately release to the Chinese American community detailed documentation of the entire incident since February 1st. We request access to the same information that the school and district have. We request the names and contact information of every single one of those who claimed that Mrs. Nicholson’s act offended Chinese Americans and Chinese culture so that we can conduct a full interview with them;
2) The school and district should issue an open apology to Mrs. Nicholson and the Chinese American community for falsely portraying Chinese culture and for falsely labeling Mrs. Nicholson’s act and wrongfully making her apologize. The school and district should make it clear to everyone that Chinese culture is open and welcome. People are encouraged to live and experience Chinese culture.
WA Asians For Equality