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.