Teachers in one Florida county have paused the use of a novel about police brutality after the local police union called the book “propaganda.”
“Ghost Boys,” by Jewell Parker Rhodes, is, according to Rhodes’ website, a story of 12-year-old Jerome who is shot and killed by police after they mistook his toy gun for a real threat – not unlike the Tamir Rice case in 2014. The story is told from the point of view of Jerome, who is now a ghost watching the ripple effects from his death play out in his community.
“Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life,” the author’s website states.
But Paul Kempinski, director of the local Fraternal Order of Police, was not a fan.
In a letter to the Broward County School Board, posted on the local union’s Facebook page Thursday, Kempinski details what he deems incorrect about the book. He says “our members feel that this book is propaganda that pushes an inaccurate and absurd stereotype of police officers in America,” and he disputes claims and statistics in the book.
“This book convinces its reader – the children of our community – that police officers regularly lie as they routinely murder children, while painting police officers as racists,” Kempinski wrote.
Kempinski also says the book exaggerates the number of unarmed Black people killed by police.
“While I applaud Broward Schools for tackling the tough topic of social justice, using a book filled with misinformation, and a dangerous message that police officers are liars, racists and murderers are not good for our children, our community, or our future,” he wrote.
CNN reached out to Rhodes but did not receive a response.
In a statement to CNN, the school board said the novel had been used as a supplementary, fiction resource in some classrooms, but it is not a standard part of the curriculum. The book had been used in two fifth-grade classrooms, the board said.
“Whenever materials outside of those vetted through the instructional materials adoption process are used in classrooms, there are existing procedures for teachers to follow: Consider age/content appropriateness; inform parents of potential (controversy), and allow parents to choose an alternative text or assignment,” the statement read. “These procedures were not proactively followed prior to the assignment of the novel. Subsequently, upon receiving parental concern, the use of the book was paused in two 5th Grade classrooms until procedures are implemented.”
This controversy comes as an increasing number of schools are grappling with ways to address systemic racism in K-12 classrooms.
Teaching about systemic racism is regularly attacked by critics who put it under the umbrella term of “critical race theory.” In Idaho, state Republican politicians moved to ban the teaching of “critical race theory,” claiming it was teaching that one race is superior over the other. In Texas, one school district saw immense pushback against a plan aimed at increasing “cultural awareness” among students, with opponents claiming it would “indoctrinate children according to extremely liberal beliefs.”
Meanwhile, after nearly four years of debate, California passed a model ethnic studies curriculum for K-12 students earlier this year.