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School District's View: Replacement books will be culturally responsive

There has been much discussion regarding the replacement of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" from Independent School District 709's required-reading list. These books are considered American classics by many people who have enjoyed reading them, and both will still be available in our schools.

They will no longer be required reading as part of our English curriculum, however. English teachers will work with curriculum staff to identify replacements for these books before the 2018-19 school year. The goal is to have the new requirements identified before the close of the 2017-18 school year.

The process for identifying new literary opportunities that support learning and respect for all our students didn't happen overnight. Over the past few years, the director of curriculum and instruction along with district leadership, school principals, and the Office of Education Equity have been working with staff, students, families, and the community to identify ways our curriculum can be updated and enhanced to support learning for all our students.

The Duluth school district recognizes the need for this advancement as we endeavor to support education excellence that is representative and responsive to our student population. The Office of Education Equity identified multiple opportunities to reach our collective goals, including making changes to our high school literary curriculum.

Across the nation, state, and here in Duluth, there are differences in achievement levels between groups of students. We are working to reduce these differences. This requires adaptation and change. Ensuring that our curriculum is culturally responsive is a vital facet of this work.

When students, families, and community organizations routinely inform us that these books cause our students to feel marginalized or humiliated, we need to be responsive and take actions that make our district stronger, even when those changes come with some frustration.

Many people have shared their thoughts with us, the School Board, and district staff. Some have been appreciative, others disappointed. Many can understand how the racial slurs and content of these books can affect people differently based on their own perspective and life experiences. Racism is a divisive social construct designed to strip all of us of our humanity by providing power, privilege, and access to some while simultaneously limiting it for others.

We have a responsibility to work to change this dynamic by using a more responsive curriculum that acknowledges multiple perspectives on important societal issues. We are confident this is a positive change to support the success of all students.

We recognize that some are frustrated by this decision, but we are confident in our staff's ability to choose replacements for these novels that will be culturally responsive and provide high-quality learning opportunities for all of our students. Staff will drive the identification of alternative novels that represent the goals of our school district and support the encouragement of literary engagement, historical context, and meaningful analysis for students and staff alike.

Bill Gronseth is superintendent of the Duluth public schools, Michael Cary is the district's director of curriculum and instruction, and William Howes is its coordinator of the Office of Education Equity.

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