African-American parent’s suit alleges aloud reading of book on slavery containing the “N word” amounted to discrimination and harassment

The Macomb Daily reports that the father of an African-American student has filed suit in a Michigan state court alleging his daughter was the victim of racial bias and harassment by the teacher reading aloud passages from a book about slavery. Jamey Petree’s suit, filed on behalf of Jala Petree, claims that excerpts from “From Slave Ship to Freedom Road” were read last January by Jala’s fifth-grade teacher at Margaret Black Elementary School in Sterling Heights.  Two excerpts that were read include N-word references and compare African-Americans’ skin color to “Satan’s thoughts” and night darkness. The excerpts talk about the buying and selling of slaves.

The suit contends Warren Consolidated Schools (WCS) violated Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by inflicting “intentional racial discrimination, disparate treatment and/or outcome, racial harassment, (and) hostile environment.” It also charges WCS intentionally inflicted “emotional distress, racial discrimination and racial harassment” as well as “retaliation for refusing to acquiesce” in committing those acts. The suit, filed  in Macomb County Circuit Court, seeks more than $25,000 [in both] compensatory and exemplary damages, along with attorney fees.

Source: Macomb Daily, 11/10/10, By Jameson Cook

[Editor's Note: The legal complaint is available at the first link below. According to the Detroit Free Press's report on the suit, WCS officials said fifth-grade teachers and the principal discussed the book before the reading as part of their Black History Month curriculum. It is recommended for children ages 10-15. WCS spokesman Robert Freehan said the book was substituted for a pre-approved one by the publisher without the district's knowledge and steps have been taken to address that. Referring to the material, Freehan said,"It's not historically misleading." The book is used in school curricula nationwide, including previously in the Oakland School District (OSD) for fifth-grade social studies. OCS Spokeswoman Shelley Rose said none of the schools in the district uses the book now. The Free Press article is available at the second link below.]

Legal complaint

Source: Detroit Free Press, 11/11/10, By Megha Satyanarayana

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