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Parent challenges book available to fourth graders at Keokuk school library

Scottsboro Boys.jpg

A parent is questioning whether a book available to fourth grade students in a Keokuk school library is age appropriate.

The parent is challenging the 1994 book “The Scottsboro Boys” because it mentions an alleged rape. Author James Haskins tells the story of nine Black teen-aged boys and men, aged 13 to 20 years old, who were falsely accused of raping two white women while on a train traveling near Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931.

The book chronicles how the nine boys and men were tried and convicted of rape by all-white juries. Eight of the accused were sentenced to death.

The U.S. Supreme overturned the rulings in 1932, and a series of retrials and convictions followed. The book discusses the injustice that ensued as the nine “Scottsboro boys” collectively served more than 100 years in prison for a crime none of them committed.

The book was included among supplemental reading material for a fourth-grade unit on civil rights at George Washington Elementary School. The parent who has asked the school board to consider withdrawing the book from the school library believes the subject of alleged rape is not age appropriate for fourth-grade students.

The Keokuk school board discussed this challenge during its May 2 meeting.

Interim Superintendent Dan Mart said that the school board could respond by ensuring that it communicates with parents about the books their children will be reading for their classes.

“We can do a better job of being transparent,” Mart said, during the meeting. “I think we can do a better job of communicating to parents.”

Mart also said the district’s book review process is allows parents to challenge any educational material used in the school district.

“The process has been in place for a while,” Mart said. “It’s part of board policy. If there is a concern about a book or something being used or a resource, there is a process that a parent can go through to have a committee reconsider the item as to its appropriateness, and then make a recommendation to the board of education.”

The eight-member committee includes one licensed employee of the school district, one teacher-librarian, one member of the administrative team, three members of the community and two high school students. Six of the members reviewed this challenge during a meeting on April 13. The committee agreed unanimously to take no action on this request.

The school board then tabled the issue at this week’s meeting because two members were absent.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for May 16.

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