POULSBO, Wash. -

An elementary school principal in Washington state has been placed on leave while the district investigates her use of the N-word to students.

Superintendent Patty Page says Pouslbo Elementary School Principal Claudia Alves went on a leave of absence Wednesday that wasn't considered a disciplinary action.

The Kitsap Sun reports Alves used the N-word with fifth-graders who were uncomfortable with the word "negro" while rehearsing a play about Martin Luther King Jr. Alves said "negro" was not the same as the N-word, and she used the actual word.

Page says it's not acceptable under district policy for an employee to use the N-word to explain its meaning.

Shawna Smith is the mother of one of the fifth-graders upset with the word "negro." She says she complained Jan. 15 because her son heard the principal use the N-word.