Elementary school finds itself at center of book controversy

CARY, N.C. -- The principal of a Wake County elementary school is responding to a story making national headlines after parents complained reading assignments were too controversial for their young children.

Fox & Friends featured on its broadcast last weekend a report posted to Civitas-sponsored blog "Stop Common Core NC." Upset parents of students at Highcroft Drive Elementary School in Cary said their fourth graders were being required to read "Esperanza Rising" and "One Crazy Summer."

"Both of these books are widely-acclaimed titles," said Rusty Taylor with Wake County Public Schools Library Services. "They are both award winners."

"Esperanza Rising" follows the story of a young girl who encounters issues of immigration, deportation and class. In "One Crazy Summer," three sisters go to Oakland, California in the late 1960s where they attend a summer camp run by the Black Panthers.

On Tuesday, Highcroft Drive Principal Dr. Tanner Gamble told ABC11 that the Fox News report was not accurate. He said only a handful of students were assigned the reading material as part of an enrichment activity. The books are not part of the Common Core curriculum. Fourth grade teachers at the school selected the books and assigned them to about 60 students to read as part of a book club.

Gamble said the parents were notified ahead of time that their student could opt out and choose alternative reading to complete the assignment.

Parents upset over the assignment contacted bloggers with Civitas-sponsored Stop Common Core NC. In a series of posts, the blog argued the reading material was too heavy for fourth graders and offers a one-sided political narrative about issues of illegal immigration and race relations.

Civitas Institute released this statement Tuesday: "We believe parents have a right and responsibility to know what's being taught in the classroom. Wake County Public Schools have a responsibility to educate our children with materials that are not only age-appropriate but also reflect the values and standards of the surrounding community. Fourth grade students are being required to read a number of texts that contain objectionable themes and questionable values. This is unacceptable to parents, students and all residents of Wake County. It must stop. We call on the Wake County Public Schools to provide a public, searchable list of all books and materials used in the classroom. If there is a compelling argument to be made against this common-sense solution, we are listening."

Wake County Schools defends the teachers' choices of reading material.

"Kids today see a world that is rapidly changing one of the things they want to know most is that there is somebody who will give them support through difficult times" said Taylor. "And that's what happens to these two kids in these books."

Gamble said he's disappointed parents didn't reach out to him first.

"If a parent ever had a concern about a book, we welcome that," he said. "We want to hear from them and could easily provide that alternative arrangement."

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