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Keokuk school board removes book from elementary school library

The Keokuk school board is moving a book from an elementary school library to the middle school library after a parent questioned if the book was age-appropriate for fourth-grade students.

The board voted 5-to-1 Monday night to remove the book “The Scottsboro Boys” from the George Washington Elementary School library and relocate the book to the library at Keokuk Middle School, where sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students could read it.

The parent who challenged the book told the board that the book discusses an alleged rape, which they considered inappropriate for fourth-grade students.

Author James Haskins’ book, published in 1994, tells the story of nine Black teenage 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 examines 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 chronicles how the nine boys and men were tried and convicted of rape by all-white juries. Eight of them were accused and sentenced to death by all-white juries. The U.S. Supreme overturned the ruling in 1932, and a series of retrials followed.

The book was included among supplemental reading material for a fourth-grade unit on civil rights at George Washington Elementary.

The board also agreed to discuss establishing a process to screen books in the elementary school library.

Keokuk Community School District Interim Superintendent Dan Mart said the board will be closely reviewing books before they are placed in the schools.

“(The school board is) looking at our processes to make sure that books are fully screened before we are including them in the instructional or in the curriculum process,” Mart said.

“Sometimes we just get into the habit of maybe reviewing the author’s synopsis, but we really need to make sure we are digging into the book to make sure there is anything we did not cover. And then, again, how do we let parents know what other resources we’re using when we’re teaching the unit for what might be available, so they, too, can do the same type of process to review to make sure, in their opinion, the book is appropriate?”

Mart said these additional “safeguards” will be discussed at a future board meeting.

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