***This was one of the most popular articles of 2021 here at The Iowa Standard. Every year at the end of the year we look back and what stories really dictated much of the conversation and drew interest from our readers.***
The Iowa Standard has written about the book “Something Happened in Our Town” before. It was in September of 2020 when we informed our readers that Epworth Elementary in the Western Dubuque District put the book on a “Top-10 Books to Read” list in the library.
This time, the book was shown on a video inside a Waukee elementary school. Initially school officials said the book was shown to eight-year-old students as it was approved as part of the district’s “equity standards.”
After a parent asked for more information in terms of how it was approved and who approves the books, they were told there isn’t a set guideline on resource materials and teachers can utilize any resources they’d like when discussing issues that fall within their equity standards.
Following screenshots of the book being sent to administrators and the school board, they acknowledged it should not have been shown. The school then sent out an email to parents of children who were directly impacted.
The concerned parent received verbal confirmation that the book would not be used as a resource in the K-2 grade level at Waukee Elementary only.
“Since I haven’t been able to get confirmation that this will be addressed further than my child’s class, I’m left with no choice to believe that this book will remain and has been used as a resource in the school district for children as young as five years old,” the parent told The Iowa Standard.
The concern started when the eight-year-old student asked if cops sometimes kill people. The parent immediately reached out to the teacher who said the book and topic was appropriate under the district’s equity standards.
The principal doubled down, until the parent sent screenshots of the book. Teachers are given “free reign” to use whatever materials they want when discussing racial justice, the parent was told.
While the teacher sent an email to the parents of children in her class, she seemingly still defended her decision until the very end:
“A few weeks ago, during a whole class morning meeting conversation, a topic of racism was brought up,” it read. “In an effort to be responsive to this topic and in an attempt to provide factual information about this topic I shared some age-appropriate facts about the situation they were referencing, and then looked for a resource that would address the topic of anti-racism. I selected a fictional story on video that we watched together as a class.
“I do my best to respond and answer questions about sensitive topics and questions that are initiated by my students. That was the case in this situation. I did my best to provide factual information and then also looked for a resource that would generally address the topic of anti-racism – in this case a fictional story on video (written for ages 4 and up). This situation does fall within the Justice domain of our Equity Standards and more specifically is related to the following K-2 standards:
“I know when people are treated unfairly. I know some true stories about how people have been treated badly because of their group identities and the reasons for that are not always fair.
“I realize now that my choice to share this video in a classroom setting was not appropriate. And for that, I wanted to apologize.”
The Waukee superintendent, Brad Buck, told the parent that the teacher spoke with another teacher about a possible resource to support the question(s) that emerged in the classroom.
“That colleague is a member of the Minnesota-based Arts group that produced the video and she mentioned it as a possibility,” Buck wrote. “That teacher has not used the resource in her classroom. As such, we believe the scope of what has happened here is limited to your child’s classroom.”
Buck said all of the families in the room have been contacted and made aware of the video. The video, he added, is not in any of the anchor lessons that are recommended for use in classrooms.
“There is a balance here that we have noted — we are working to provide anchor lessons for the implementation of our equity standards,” Buck wrote. “We also know that teachers need autonomy, at times, to make different decisions to do what she or he believes is the next right thing for his or her students.”
Buck acknowledged the so-called equity standards are “new to us, as is their implementation.”
He said the book and video will not be a part of the recommended resources in support of this work.
Here is the video that was reportedly shown.