Draft anti-bullying book list presented
School district officials are working on a list of books for grade schoolers aimed at curbing bullying based on race, religion and a variety of other factors.
The effort is an outgrowth of the Board of Education’s approval last year of a set of elementary school lessons aimed at curbing anti-gay bullying and the subsequent recognition that more could be done to curb bullying based on race and nationality, religion, gender, disability. All six groups are considered “protected classes” that must be shielded from discrimination and harassment as a matter of state law.
Interim Assistant Superintendent Ruben Zepeda said a teacher work group has whittled the list down to 50 books from 140, and that he hopes to reduce that number to 15 for the school board’s consideration on April 13.
“Hopefully we’ll have a list that’s respectful of what teachers are teaching and respectful of the six protected classes,” Zepeda told the board.
District staff gathered information about books already being taught that addressed the six classes in order to get a sense of what needed to be added. They found that books on nationality were taught in every elementary grade but kindergarten, race in grades three through five, religion in grade three and sexual orientation not at all, save literature added through the anti-gay bullying Lesson 9 the board approved in May 2009.
They also put together a book list based on a state reading list and community recommendations and took comments from community members regarding the book selection. Zepeda said teachers looked for books that were inclusive, engaging, grade-appropriate and that promoted visibility, awareness and respect while being sensitive to the local community, among other criteria.
The books are available for public review in room 202E of the district office through March 13.
One parent who fought Lesson 9 said she appreciated the books that were selected to represent the African American community, but she wanted to see biracial and Asian families better represented. She also said she wants to make sure people with religious faiths are fairly represented.
“Your resolution states that all pupils have the right to participate in the education process free from discrimination and harassment, and that does include religion,” said Kellie Wood, a parent who opposed Lesson 9 and was active in efforts to recall the three school board trustees who supported it.
Others in the crowd, which was a fraction of the one that faced board members during the Lesson 9 debates, said the support the district’s efforts and they want to make sure that its teachings continue.
“I would encourage you to keep on the course you’re on,” Mark Dietrich, who founded the Concerned Alameda Parents website in support of the district’s efforts.
School board Trustee Tracy Jensen noted that the district’s existing book list includes books addressing every protected class but gays.
“It demonstrates to me that this board did the right thing by adopting Lesson 9,” Jensen, who has been a vocal backer of the lesson, said.
Trustee Trish Spencer said she’d like to see some additional groups covered, including Filipinos – who make up a substantial portion of the district’s population – and atheists and agnostics.
The listed cost of the books is $30,000, though Zepeda said he anticipates the actual cost will be less than that. If the board approves a book list, teachers will work separately to create support materials to teach the books.
Separately, the board voted to formally close Chipman Middle School and to extend the attendance zone for Wood Middle School to include former Chipman students. A new charter school, The Academy of Alameda Middle School, is anticipated to open at Chipman in the fall.
Also, the state Department of Education this week gave Alameda Unified a qualified certification, meaning the state has determined that, based on current projections, the district may not meet its financial obligations for one or more of the next three years.
Alameda Unified has been on and off the state’s qualified certification list for several years, and this time around, it is joined by dozens of other districts and county offices of education, including five other districts in Alameda County. The state has determined that one Alameda County district, Hayward Unified, will not meet its financial obligations for one or both of the next two fiscal years, earning it a negative certification.
The certification is based on financial projections the district released in December. I just got a note from School Board Vice President Mike McMahon indicating the district will be coming off that list in light of just-released financial projections that followed the inking of a memorandum of understanding with teachers.