Community prevails; MPS cancels $1.25 million book deal

michaelgoar225Following community uproar over books that many deemed racist and sexist, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) has decided to end its relationship with the books’ provider, Reading Horizons.

The stunning reversal came this past Tuesday (Oct. 13) during the school board’s regular monthly meeting. Reading Horizons had been previously awarded a contract that was worth $1.25 million to provide books that ironically were supposed to lessen the reading gap between white students and underperforming students of color. However, once the books were delivered to the district, several teachers complained about the books such as “Lazy Lucy” which depicts Lucy as a lazy African girl who does not want to clean her hut, and “Nieko the Hunting Girl” that depicts a primitive view of Indigenous-Americans and yet even another book that focuses on Kenyans and how “Kenyans are able to run very fast” and “some Kenyans with run bare feet.”

This past Tuesday’s meeting got off to a rocky start with the board having to reverse itself on not entertaining public comments and opting for “small listening sessions.” Many objected and Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds asked MPS for transparency and the board agreed to hold public comments as it normally does. For the third straight month, residents packed the meeting voicing concerns about the contract with Reading Horizons, a Utah-based company that supplied the now infamous books. The materials never saw the light of day in a MPS classroom, but still, concerned citizens weren’t satisfied and demanded the contract be nullified. Initially, Interim Superintendent Michael Goar defended the contract with Reading Horizons, but due to mounting pressure, he reversed course.

“I think (the reversal) was due to the fact that there was a strong community voice and that made a huge difference … the people would not relent,” said Levy-Pounds.

kenya-book-111Prior to the meeting, Levy-Pounds penned an open letter to the board and to Goar calling the continued relationship with Reading Horizons, “utter disregard for issues being raised by parents, students, teachers and community members” and said there was a “Jim Crow type system within MPS.”

While the offensive materials were immediately pulled, Levy-Pounds said that was no consolation.

“It was not enough to remove the rotten fruit from the tree, we need to dig up the root and cancel the contract,” said Levy-Pounds.

Although the cancelation of the Reading Horizons contract was viewed as a victory for those outraged, the NAACP president said MPS has a long history of racism that needs to be addressed.

“This isn’t the first time the district has purchased racist materials,” said Levy-Pounds, referring to a software program that was in use by students this past school year that rewarded users that, for example, successfully navigated slavery by not answering a white man because “he liked his slaves silent.”

“There’s a really hostile environment in Minneapolis Public Schools and something has to happen to change that, whether it’s federal intervention, law suits or whatever else. We need an administration who understands the complex racial dynamics that the district has,” said Levy-Pounds. “We want to see urgent, radical change in how the district does business.”

When asked of a MPS spokesperson how the district would recoup the funds paid, the spokesperson did not immediately reply. The spokesperson said Goar was not available for comment on the matter and referred inquiries regarding the incident to a video transcript of last Tuesday’s meeting. However, at time of press that transcript had yet to appear on the MPS site.

October 20, 2015
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