SEFFNER, Fla. — A novel about police brutality is required reading at Burnett Middle School as a part of its "1 Book 1 School" reading initiative.
All students at the school were provided a copy of '"Ghost Boys." The fictional novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes is the story of 12-year-old Jerome who was shot and killed by police after an officer mistook his toy gun for a real weapon.
As a ghost, Jerome watches the effects of his death play out in the community and meets another ghost, Emmett Till, in the process.
The novel was selected by the school's principal Valerie Newton and students discussed the text in their classes as they read the book.
"Our two main characters are our demographics — White, Black, and Hispanic," she said. "So everyone can find themselves in it."
Newton didn't want to shy away from the real-world issues brought up in the novel. After students finished reading the book, she helped coordinate a school-wide assembly that included the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and members of the police union to discuss the themes and issues bought up in the text.
"It was important for these kids to hear about what happens to kids their age and learn how to respond to it so they don't become another statistic," Newton said.
Sixth grader Demi Baker read the story in detail. She had a lot of questions while listening to her teachers and law enforcement officers speak to her class on Monday.
"It made me recognize that sometimes things aren't what they seem," she said.
Law enforcement officers spoke to students about the reasons behind the decision they make and explained the process of how officers are investigated.
"At least I know that they're going to be held accountable for their actions and its not going to go unnoticed like the case of Emmett Till," Baker said.
Baker said some of the actions in the book concerned her and raised a lot of questions.
"Whatever happened to, 'Stop, put your hands down?'" she asked. "Are we going to go straight to shooting?"
"Ghost Boys" was also a big topic of discussion in her friend group. She said racial bias brought up in the novel was also discussed at length in her language arts class.
"Some of the things that me and my friends talked about were how sometimes people can be racist for no reason," she said.
HCSO Maj. Anthony Collins, Danny Alvarez from the Police Benevolent Association, and members of the school's guidance team were in attendance to help answer student's questions.