Parent upset over controversial book read to 5th graders

By Saundra Weathers, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, August 26, 2017

Is a book about racism that includes the N-word appropriate for fifth graders? A Pinellas County mother says it’s not, but district leaders say the book is approved by them.

  • Parent upset over controversial book read to 5th graders 
  • Book about racism using N-word read in Pinellas schools
  • Book, The Liberation of Gabriel King, approved by school district
  • Cerenity Whiting, 5th grader, & mom uncomfortable with content of book

The book titled The Liberation of Gabriel King is described as a fictional book about courage in 1976. One of the characters in it is an African American girl facing her fear of the KKK, according to the author’s website.

That’s the book that 10-year-old Cerenity Whiting said her teacher read out loud to her fifth grade class on Thursday. In the book there’s a line that reads, “You got beat up by an N-word girl?”

“It was about a boy getting bullied and that it was about his best friend and she was a black girl and she had punched the boy in the nose and the father had said you got beat up by an “N” girl,” Cerenity said.

Cerenity said she was shocked when she heard it read out loud by her teacher and saddened by her classmate’s response.

“They started laughing and then I said that wasn’t funny. And he didn’t do anything he just kept on reading while they were laughing,” she said. “It made me feel like both. Like the word wasn’t right and I got uncomfortable.”

She said out of all the children in her class there are only three African American children including herself.

Her mother Marquita Oseji says she found out about the book on Friday when Cerenity said she didn’t want to go to school because of it.

“I’m upset. I’m upset that the school board would allow this because there’s many ways that you can teach a child about bullies and different situations without using derogatory words,” she said. “This word is a useless word and I feel like they can get their point across without using this word.”

Oseji said she asked the principal why she wasn’t alerted about the content of the book.

“She told me that it was supposed to be a shared learning time. They were supposed to send home the letters that never went out and that the teacher stated that they weren’t aware of it. She did tell me she was going to pull the book from the classrooms and the teachers, however, I spoke to my daughter after school and the books were still in the book cases when she left after school,” Oseji said.

Friday afternoon the Pinellas County School District released this statement: “The Liberation of Gabriel King is an approved text for fifth grade. Pinellas County Schools are reviewing whether policies related to sensitive materials were followed. The principal has spoken with the parent and the matter is being addressed.”

They also sent over their Controversial Material Policy and Guidelines. In that document it says, “If the principal agrees that the material is both controversial and appropriate for the grade level involved, a letter should be sent to parents.”

Oseji says she never received a letter. She contacted NAACP president, Maria Scruggs, who said the ball was dropped.

“If the adults are just trying to get to a point where they can talk about race comfortably, my God we should certainly know that, that preparation needs to occur with children in 5th grade,” Scruggs said.

Cerenity said she’s okay to go back to school knowing that she learned a valuable lesson about what’s appropriate. Her mother says she hopes school leaders learned a lesson too.