SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah company that creates reading curriculum is revamping a series of books after teachers complained about the material being racially and culturally insensitive. Reading Horizons is a North Salt Lake based company that produced 54 books for the Minneapolis Public School District geared toward students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
But before kids could crack open the books, the district pulled them off the shelves. The Minneapolis School District is starting the school year without dozens of books that are part of their new reading curriculum.
Laura Axtell works for Reading Horizons. The company contracted with the district to produce the “Little Book” series for their Kindergarten through 2nd grade students. But when teachers opened the books during a training in August, they found the content offensive.
One book features a young black girl in the story title, Lazy Lucy. “Nieko the Hunting Girl” shows a stereotyped illustration of a Native American girl. A book about Kenya describes its people as “fast runners.”
Teachers complained that the depictions do little to help students of color, and the school district admitted the books were not “comprehensively vetted.”
Michael Goar, Interim Superintendent for Minnesota Public Schools, released a statement, which said in part: “We now know this was a mistake. We regret that this happened. We will do better... It is not acceptable that in 2015 reading materials for children would contain language and imagery that perpetuate stereotypes that are hurtful and insulting."
FOX 13 News showed the illustrations to people in downtown Salt Lake City and reactions were mixed.
“Nieko the Hunting girl, well yeah, I don't think this should fly nowadays. These old images of Native Americans have been deemed offensive by Native Americans,” said Laney Clark.
“If this is a heritage book for kids on Kenya and Kenyan kids or people then I wouldn't find it so offensive, said Crystal Rodriguez. “But if they're doing it for their color, they feel like all blacks are fast and that's just how they are then, yeah: It's offensive.”
Rebecca Acosta had a title suggestion: “Instead of Lazy Lucy, how about Running Lucy?”
Reading Horizons says they are working with the district to revamp the books.
“The issue for us is if someone has a concern then we have a concern. It's a distraction to our goal, which is to help Minneapolis and all of our schools close the achievement gap,” said Laura Axtell, implementation coordinator for Reading Horizons.
Reading Horizons says they have a good track record of teaching students how to decode the English language. They realize they can do better, and moving forward they plan to add a diverse group of people to review materials before they ship them out to schools.