Schools hold campaign to prevent use of ‘R-word’

Wil Petty

March 31, 2014

Ashe County Schools have began to “Spread the Word to End the Word,” as a way to bring light to the county’s exceptional children.

“We wanted to raise awareness, but it was more than that,” said Kassee Roberts, a teacher at Ashe County High School. “We wanted to shed light on the fact that (exceptional children) are just the same as all of us.”

The Spread the Word campaign was started in 2009, as a way to encourage people worldwide to stop using the word “retard(ed).”

Roberts said this is the first year Ashe County High School took part in the campaign. Initially, the plan was to promote the event solely at the high school, but as word quickly spread, the rest of the schools in the county, as well as local businesses got involved.

Roberts said during school lunch, the high school had a booth set up to where students could sign a pledge saying they would stop using the word and in addition could purchase T-shirts. Eventually, the high school would have 200 shirts pre-ordered for students and faculty at the other schools.

Now, Roberts said over 300 shirts have been sold and more have been ordered within Ashe County.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “We had planned to start (the campaign) small, but it has turned into so much more.”

According to the R-word campaign, organized by the Special Olympics and Best Buddies programs, the “campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the ‘R-word’ as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.

The campaign started in 2009, during the Special Olympics World Winter Games. The first awareness day held by the organization took place on March 31, 2009, and this year the day of awareness occurred March 5.

“I think everybody needs to be more careful in how they choose which words to use,” Roberts said, adding people are described by their actions, not as a word.

As the event continues for the county, Roberts said she was surprised at how the community took to spreading the word.

“You’re always going to have some backing, but it really shows that (the community) cares,” Roberts said.

For more information about the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, visit

Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.