Tag Archives: texts

Minneapolis school board calls Utah-made books offensive

Minneapolis school board members are demanding an apology and a refund from a Utah-based publisher of educational books after a community backlash against what some called racial and cultural stereotypes in the material.

The books from Reading Horizons include a story about a black girl called “Lazy Lucy” and a stereotyped illustration of an American Indian girl in a book called “Nieko the Hunting Girl,” The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Board members said the Utah-based company Reading Horizons should return the $1.2 million the district paid for the books for children in kindergarten through third grade.

“Reading Horizons needs to step up to the table,” board member Carla Bates said. “I want them to bring me a check, bring you a check, bring the taxpayers of Minneapolis a check.”

The dust-up comes as critics say the school district isn’t doing enough to help students of color close a wide achievement gap.

The books are designed to help teachers reinforce reading lessons, but administrators acknowledged during a Tuesday meeting that they didn’t fully vet the material before buying the books, which have since been returned.

“We rushed the contract,” Interim Superintendent Michael Goar said. “Where we can hold people accountable, we will.”

The company is overhauling its teaching material to be more culturally sensitive, but Reading Horizons representative Laura Axtell said wouldn’t say whether it will issue a refund.

The titles were published in 2012 and have been used in other schools without complaints, Axtell said.

“That doesn’t matter to us, because as soon as we became aware of the concerns in Minneapolis, we took action,” she said, adding that the company takes responsibility for its role in the controversy.

Though the subject material may be questionable, the skills taught in the books do help kids learn to read, said Peter Sage, an elementary school reading specialist in Minneapolis. Students are falling behind, and faculty can’t afford to wait for new books, he said.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the North Salt Lake-based company is considering a voluntary recall of the series, which also includes a book about Kenya that says “Kenyans are able to run very fast.”

The books were purchased as part of a program designed to help close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

The district will continue to use the Reading Horizons focus on phonetics and decoding words, though without the 54 books in the series, Goar said in a statement.

San Francisco mayor may fire police over racist, homophobic texts

The mayor of San Francisco said this week that four police officers under investigation in the sending of racist and homophobic texts will be fired if the probe determines they sent the messages.

Mayor Edwin M. Lee called the messages heinous and despicable, and called for immediate disciplinary action against the officers. 

The city’s Board of Supervisors said it will hold a hearing to look into bias in the city’s justice system and ask for input from the San Francisco Police Department, public defender’s office, district attorney’s office and Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigates complaints against police officers.

“When things of this nature surface, we have to look long and hard at what’s actually happening in the department,” said board President London Breed.

The texts targeting blacks, Mexicans, Filipinos and gay men were discovered by federal authorities investigating former police Sgt. Ian Furminger, who was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 41 months in federal prison. 

The names of the officers have not been released by police, but attorneys representing them have identified them as Michael Robison, 46; Noel Schwab, 49; Rain Daugherty, 40; and Michael Celis, 47.

Attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson said Daugherty is “appropriately ashamed by his impulsive and insensitive banter, and accepts full responsibility for the content of those text messages that he sent, which are by no means a reflection of his true character or his style of policing.”

Robison and Celis also regret their involvement in the messages, said Anthony Brass, their lawyer.

“They are very clear that this is not acceptable banter,” Brass said, “and they understand why the communities in San Francisco would take this very seriously and find it deeply offensive.”

Brass also said Schwab is one of the officers under investigation. However, a lawyer he said represents Schwab was not immediately available for comment.

The officers have been reassigned and will have no interaction with the public during the investigation, a decision the association supports.

The messages were sent between Furminger and the officers in 2011 and 2012 and disclosed in court documents, authorities said.

“The content of these text messages displays a bias that is incompatible with the values of our city and incompatible with the ability to perform sworn duties as a police officer,” Lee said. “If these statements are attributable to any San Francisco police officer, I join Police Chief Greg Suhr in seeking nothing less than termination.”

The San Francisco Police Officers Association issued a statement saying the actions were not emblematic of individuals it represents.

“All these racist and homophobic text messages, if true, are disgraceful and humiliating to the community we serve,” the statement said.

Authorities said the texts feature the repeated use of the phrase “white power” and references to burning crosses and the Ku Klux Klan. 

District Attorney George Gascon said his office will review all cases going back 10 years that the officers were linked to either by writing a report, submitting evidence or testifying in court. He said there is no place for bigotry in San Francisco.

Brian Getz, Furminger’s attorney in the federal case, told the San Francisco Examiner that the messages were taken out of context.

S.C. House refuses to restore college cuts for books dealing with homosexuality

The South Carolina House refused this week to back down from plans to punish two public colleges in the budget for assigning freshmen to read books dealing with homosexuality.

The House rejected multiple attempts to restore $52,000 cut from the College of Charleston in the state budget, and $17,142 cut from the University of South Carolina Upstate. Those are the amounts the universities spent on books assigned to their incoming freshmen last summer. The efforts failed by votes of 69-41, 70-43, 71-40 and 71-38.

Opponents argued the cuts, which reduce what the colleges can spend from their own revenue sources, censor and micromanage college decisions.

When it comes to public colleges, legislators should be debating funding and building construction, not “pushing our own moral agenda on these institutions of higher learning,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

“Are we saying we don’t trust the college students enough to expose them to something they may not have seen before? We can’t let you read anything other than what we believe?” she asked. “What about the notion of freedom to have different views? Isn’t this what we go all over the globe fighting for?”

College of Charleston students read “Fun Home,” a book by Alison Bechdel that describes her childhood with a closeted gay father and her own coming out as a lesbian. USC Upstate assigned “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” referring to South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show, for a freshmen course that included lectures and other out-of-classroom activities meant to spark discussions about the book.

Rep. Garry Smith, whose subcommittee made the reductions, said he wanted to make a point after college officials declined to give students an option to read something else. He said he wouldn’t oppose the books if they were part of an elective course. He called it promotion of a lifestyle.

“Freedom comes with responsibility. These universities did not act responsibly,” said Smith, R-Simpsonville.

Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, said opponents of the cuts argue for a diversity of ideas but don’t want to consider conservatives’ viewpoint. After House Speaker Bobby Harrell rejected Smith’s suggestions to project illustrations from “Fun Home” on the House screen, Nanney said, “It’s not appropriate to even put up in this room but we’re giving it to 18-year-old kids?”

The votes came as the House opened floor debate on the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The spending plan commits $7 billion in state taxes. The state budget would total $24 billion, up from $22.5 billion this year, when including all revenue sources, such as federal money, fees, fines, lottery profits and tuition at public colleges.

While other sections of the budget passed quickly with no discussion, the college cuts tied up debate for hours. Debate on other sections will continue Tuesday.

College of Charleston President George Benson said the university is committed to academic freedom, and any university education must include the opportunity for students to engage controversial ideas. Any attempt by legislators to tie funding to what books are taught threatens the credibility of all of South Carolina’s public colleges, he said.

“Our students are adults, and we will treat them as such,” Benson said. “Faculty, not politicians, ultimately must decide what textbooks are selected and how those materials are taught.”