Police brutality theme calls high school summer reading list into question

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Wando High School summer reading list for one class is getting a lot of attention on social media.

Some people are upset about book selections because they think it sheds a negative light on law enforcement.

While some people are calling it into question, there are others who support it.

Wando High students taking an English 1 College Prep course can choose one of four books on their summer reading list where they will have to complete a reading log or journal prior to the start of the school year and then prepare for an assessment.

Two of the options discuss police brutality.

Those include All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The other two options are Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira and 23 minutes by Vivian Vande Velde.

The president of the Tri-County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge Number 3 John Blackmon is not happy about the list.

"I was pretty appalled," Blackmon said."Here we've got law enforcement agencies spending countless man hours trying to build relationships with our youth in our community, and we have a local high school putting together a reading list which paints law enforcement in such a negative light."

The Hate U Give received the 2017 National Book Award.

It's about a character who is drawn to activism after witnessing a police shooting of her unarmed friend.

All American Boys looks at an instance of police brutality from the view of two high school classmates.

South Carolina Poet Laureate and author Marjory Wentworth, who teaches a course at the College of Charleston on banned books, supports the book choices.

"It's hard for me to imagine in a place like Charleston where we had the Walter Scott shooting that anyone would sort of not understand the need for all of us understanding how did that happen...and some people don't want to have that conversation," Wentworth said.

She says literature can provide new perspectives, change people's minds and lead to more understanding for people including students.

"Their impressions of law enforcement are very limited so now they're reading this book which all it does is say law enforcement is a bunch of bad guys, bullies who will beat you up or shoot you and that's not even close to what law enforcement does for our community," Blackmon said.

Wentworth says she has met the author Angie Thomas.

Thomas' book, the Hate U Give, was selected as the 2018 book for the College of Charleston's campus-wide reading program.

"I don't think anybody who has ever read it has said it's an anti-police book. She's trying to tell a story about what it feels like to have this happen to you," Wentworth said.

The books are selected by a committee of Wando High School staff.

The principal of Wando High School Dr. Sherry Eppelsheimer provided the following statement:

I understand two of the selections/choices for this summer's reading list for English 1 College Prep classes are considered controversial by some members of our community. I appreciate their concern and input regarding this matter. A 'Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials' form has been submitted and the school and district will follow the procedures outlined in Policy IJKAA-R in connection with the reconsideration request.

Policy IJKAA is a Charleston County School District policy that establishes the structure for reconsideration of instructional materials by district staff.

As part of the review process, Wando staff will have to provide the rationale for choosing the book within the next three days.

The Charleston County School District says district and staff members have received questions and concerns about the summer reading list.

The district is not aware of another high school within the district that is using the books that were called into question for summer reading.

District officials say one book does appear to be on the reading list for schools in other districts within the state.

When summer reading lists are compiled, the committee considers reviews from nationally-known book review sources and award winning young adult literature titles that will be of high interest to students, according to the district.

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