Lakewood third-grader asks nicely, but school district says no to sidewalk art

Staff writerJune 6, 2014 

Custer Elementary third-grader Sterling Norris, 8, loves making chalk drawings, but the Clover Park School District will not allow her to make her creations on school grounds. This rendition of a tree drawn on her family’s back deck features Chippy the squirrel, who nests in their yard.

DREW PERINE — Staff photographer

Lakewood third-grader Sterling Norris thought her request was a simple one.

With the arrival of sunny weather, she hoped to bring her sidewalk chalk to school to use at recess time on the pavement outside Custer Elementary School.

But what Sterling viewed as an exercise in creativity, Clover Park School District officials saw as a potential problem.

Sterling did what any good 8½-year-old would do: She asked her teacher for permission to use her chalk.

Her teacher asked the school principal, who in turn asked some people in charge in the school district’s main office.

They asked the people in the district maintenance department.

And they said “No.”

“We said ‘no chalk art on school district property, facilities, parking lots or sidewalks,’ ” said school district spokeswoman Kim Prentice. “We want to discourage it across the district.”

Chalk art presents a clean-up problem, according to the maintenance department.

“We need pressure washers to remove it,” Prentice said. “And if we can’t get to it, it ends up being a catalyst for other kinds of art.”

If some pavement chalk art were left behind, district officials fear it might attract graffiti that would mar school buildings.

As an alternative, the maintenance people suggested Sterling and other kids at Custer create their chalk art using lengths of butcher paper that could be removed and taken inside when recess ended.

Sterling doesn’t think much of that idea.

“A waste of paper and too small,” she said.

She’s also skeptical of the notion that chalk art would inspire graffiti.

“It’ll make people happy to see beautiful things and not boring grounds, and it will encourage them to do their own chalk art,” she added. “It’s art. And we don’t have much art at school.”

Chalk is Sterling’s medium of choice. She’s been doing chalk art for as long as she can remember.

On a recent afternoon, she turned her family’s wooden back deck into a canvas. Using her 48-color pack of fat sidewalk chalk, she created a drawing of a large sun, a giraffe (her favorite animal) and other playful images.

Sterling’s mom, Deidre Norris, supports her daughter’s idea.

“Sometimes she doesn’t want to play on the monkey bars or walk around and be bored,” said Norris, an active volunteer at Custer.

Sterling points out that her playground doesn’t have a painted hopscotch pad. She hoped to create one with her chalk. She said her friends at school are also excited about the idea of chalk art.

After hearing that she wouldn’t be allowed to chalk at school, Sterling said she felt sad.

But her mom has encouraged her to speak up for her idea.

“I told her if you want to voice your opinion, you can,” Norris said. “I explained school board meetings to her. She began preparing her speech.”

Sterling and her mom drew up a list of 14 reasons why chalk art should be allowed at school. Among them: It’s creative, it’s a stress-reliever, and it will wash off, either in the rain or with a bucket of water.

Sterling hoped to present her 14 points at the May 27 School Board meeting. But she learned after showing up — with a bow in her hair and a bucket of chalk in tow — that public comment wasn’t scheduled that night.

Sterling said she’s not giving up. She and her mom plan to be at the next regular board meeting Tuesday — only three days before the end of the school year.

But she’ll have her speech ready to go, and likely her chalk bucket in hand.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635
debbie.cafazzo@thenewstribune.com
@DebbieCafazzo

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