PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - Are the books your children reading in school culturally appropriate and do they provide the best perspective? It’s something the Pinellas County School District is examining with its newly formed Curriculum Taskforce.
The taskforce is made up of about 40 members, including school staff, students and other stakeholders.
One of the students on the taskforce is Pinellas County High School senior Lisa Ostin. She said she had been very active at her high school before switching to virtual learning, and she wanted to do more. One of her teachers familiar with her advocacy and outreach told her about the taskforce and she immediately applied and got accepted.
Ostin said the need for this kind of dialog is important for all students, especially when it comes to materials about history of other races in this country.
“Even the 13th amendment. It’s like, 'OK, they’re free now. Here’s the law that says that and then we move on,'” she said. “We don’t talk about well what does the 13th amendment actually represent?”
The soon to be graduate is hoping her work on Pinellas County School’s Curriculum Taskforce will change that knowledge for other children.
Hillary Van Dyke is one of the district’s administrators leading the charge.
“It’s literally going in and researching what is that book from the best list about and what are some other books that might tell this story similarly, or could do the same job or maybe have a more diverse perspective,” Van Dyke said.
The taskforce provided Spectrum Bay News 9 with a document that shows some of the books they’re examining that are on the state’s BEST, Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking, Book List.
Their work examines reading books and textbooks used in grades K-12. On the working list the taskforce provided they’re looking at some of the more popular books like the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.
Their observations show the book is written from a white male perspective and lacks a minority perspective. The group noted the book should remain a part of the reading and be paired with a another short story.
Another book they examined, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The group also noted the lack of minority perspective and suggested replacing it with a different adventure novel like The Odyssey.
The district’s Associate Superintendent, Kevin Hendrick. said their work is about improving - not deleting - materials. “Nothing is being removed in terms of like banned. I just want to make sure we’re clear on that. To Kill a Mocking bird is a good example. We’re not suggesting you take it out of the library. We’re just saying, if we’re going to choose a text we’re gonna expect all students to read, that may not be the one we chose because it doesn’t have the texts we want to emphasize,” Hendrick said.
Some of the changes the taskforce suggested have already been implemented while others will go into effect in the fall. The district’s Curriculum Taskforce meets once a month and plans to continue working for years to come.