More context on Neary classroom incident

On Friday, I shared the news that was putting Southborough schools in the headlines. A reader shared more context around one aspect of the story in which a 5th grade Neary teacher allegedly used a racial slur in the classroom.

The message that Superintendent Gregory Martineau had posted for the K-8 Southborough schools community, included:

The second incident occurred in April when the same educator was reading a book aloud that was recommended by a colleague. In reading and discussing the text, the educator used the ‘N-word.’ It was later brought to the District’s attention that the ‘N-word’ does not appear in the book. Dehumanizing words such as slurs should not be spoken by employees or students. Using such words can harm students and negatively impact an open discussion on a particular topic.

After initially posting my story on Friday, I soon updated it to link to a WBUR interview with a parent. As a reader noted, the interview states that the book in question was “The Parker Inheritance” by Varian Johnson.

That reader also shared a screenshot from the book that shows that while the N-word wasn’t directly used, it was essentially spelled out and discussed:

The Parker Inheritance p 112 highlighted screenshotIn the book, two students discover that someone vandalized a yearbook:

“Someone wrote something in the yearbook. Something stupid and ugly and racist.” She pressed down hard on the book, like she was trying to stop the words from escaping. . .

“And they didn’t even spell the word right. Niger—with one g—is a country in Africa.”

Common Sense Media describes the book as for ages 8+ and gives it 5 stars, describing under “Parents Need to Know” that it was a 2019 recipient of the Corretta Scott King Book Award. It specifies:

The main characters are two smart, savvy African American kids who love books and brainteasers. The story deals frankly and thoughtfully with both subtle and blatant racism in the 1950s and today. Most racial slurs are alluded to, not spelled out, though one character is called “tar baby,” and another, “darkie lover.” Some whites threaten a young black girl with a doll that has a noose around her neck. Characters also deal with divorce, bullying by peers, and gay identity. Though the issues are serious, they’re woven skillfully into a suspenseful, page-turning plot, and there’s warmth and lightness in the families and friendships.

In WBUR’s interview, Meghan Cifuentes, the parent of a student in the classroom, was quoted:

“If you’re going to use that word with 10 and 11 years olds, there needs to be a heavy discussion of what the word is, why it was used and what it means — just some background information,” the parent said.

An early-grade educator by profession, Cifuentes said she is not unhappy that the students were learning historic subject matter, such as the slave trade. “But they’re sensitive topics and need to be addressed and taught in the correct way.”

“There were children in the classroom that were confused about what an auction was,” she said.

Updated (6/3/24 11:02 am): The Southborough School Committee posted “Office Hours” for noon and 7:30 pm this Tuesday, June 4th. They will be held at the Public Safety Building in the training room, at 32 Cordaville Road.

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