Some books at Cary school draw complaints from conservatives

"One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia
"One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia

A Cary elementary school’s use of two children’s books is drawing complaints from conservative groups that Wake County schools are having fourth-grade students read what the groups call age-inappropriate material about the Black Panthers, police brutality and illegal immigration.

About 30 fourth-grade students at Highcroft Drive Elementary School are reading “One Crazy Summer,” a book about kids attending a summer camp run by the Black Panthers in California in 1968. Another 30 fourth-graders are reading “Esperanza Rising,” about a Mexican family that moves to California during the Depression to work in agriculture.

School officials said Tuesday that they had not received complaints from parents at the school. But staff at the conservative Civitas Institute said Highcroft parents upset about the books had contacted Stop Common Core NC, a website that’s a project of Civitas.

Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst with Civitas, said both books glorify violence and push subversive themes on impressionable children. He said Wake should create a searchable database for parents to see what books are used.

“These are difficult contentious topics even when age appropriate,” he said. “Nine years old is not appropriate for topics like this.”

Wake school officials note that both award-winning books are used by schools around the country.

“I think ultimately this takes some very difficult topics and allows kids to see a part of history that they normally would not see,” said Rusty Taylor, a coordinating teacher in Wake’s instructional technology and library media services office. “One of the messages that we want kids to have is that they have to learn how to make decisions for themselves.”

Tanner Gamble, Highcroft’s principal, said Fox News incorrectly reported that all fourth-grade students are being required to read the books. Instead, he said, a small number of students read them as part of an “enrichment activity.”

Gamble said each fourth-grade class was split into book clubs of five or six students reading different material their teachers consider developmentally appropriate.

Gamble said the parents were told ahead of time which books would be used and that no one had objected this year or in the past.

“One Crazy Summer” is not on the list of books for the fourth-grade curriculum in Wake, according to Lisa Luten, a district spokeswoman. She said “Esperanza Rising” is among 125 alternate books that fourth-grade teachers can choose to read aloud. It is not a required book, she said.

News about the books first appeared on Stop Common Core NC, before being picked up by national conservative sites, including Fox News aired a segment about the books on Sunday during Fox and Friends Weekend.

Caleb Bonham, editor-in-chief of Campus Reform, a conservative news organization that covers higher education, charged on Fox News that both books promote the idea that police are only good for shooting people or deporting them.

“Educators are really capitalizing on opportunities to use students to advance political narratives,” he said.

Gamble, the principal, said he’s disappointed that parents who had concerns hadn’t contacted him first so that he could have made alternative arrangements.

“If a parent ever had a concern about a book, we welcome that,” he said. “We want to hear from them.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer