Schoolbooks yanked after discovery of 'hurtful and insulting' material

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Minneapolis Public Schools says books that caused an uproar for their depictions of non-white people are being revised by the company that provided them, and never made it to students.

The books in question were part of a series called "Little Books," aimed at early literacy training, the Star Tribune reports.

But during teacher workshops earlier this month, when the books were introduced, a number of educators were quickly shocked at the contents, writes freelance journalist Sarah Lahm on a blog called Bright Lights Small City, which first broke the story.

The portrayal of non-white characters in the collection included "Lazy Lucy," a young black girl who won't clean her hut; and "Nieko, the Hunting Girl," an American Indian girl who goes to hunt a wooly mammoth with her father.

One teacher told Lahm there is a single Asian character throughout the 54 books, and apparently no Latino characters.

The books in question came from Reading Horizons, a company Minneapolis Public Schools contracted with in July to provide a literary curriculum and additional support.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Michael Goar wrote a letter on Facebook, in which he said the books contained "culturally insensitive and unacceptable material," adding the language and images used "perpetuate stereotypes that are hurtful and insulting."

The books were recalled immediately (about three weeks ago, when the training happened), Goar writes, and were never given to students. In addition, he said Reading Horizons promised to revise the books until the district is satisifed.

"Due to staffing shifts and the desire to get a program in place for the new school year, the books were not comprehensively vetted," Goar said in the statement. "We now know this was a mistake. We regret that this happened. We will do better."

Call to terminate contract

David Branch, a former principal in the district, argued in his own comment (which was reposted by the school district) that the contract with Reading Horizons needs to be terminated.

"Show that you have Courageous Leadership and take action to NOT work with this company," he wrote. "These materials are oozing with discriminatory and racist images. We need more than just lip services saying the books are being changed. Do we really want to be associated with a company that is using images of Kenyan people with bulging eyes, dark skin, and imply they run well."

The contract with Reading Horizons is worth $1.2 million, KSTP reports.

Goar, however, says Reading Horizons has shown to be effective in improving student outcomes, and plans to continue with the contract after the needed revisions.

"Here is an important consideration. Reading Horizons works," he wrote. "Research shows this program has been successful in improving student outcomes across the country, including outcomes in diverse districts like ours."

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