Papillion-La Vista school district apologizes after offensive book controversy

The book seeks to help young students understand and address racial injustices in their lives.
A children's book is causing controversy in Papillion-La Vista schools.
Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 8:29 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Papillion-La Vista Community Schools is apologizing to the community after a controversial book, not authorized in the district’s curriculum, was shown to an elementary school.

The book is called “Something Happened In Our Town” by Marianne Celano, Marieta Collins, and Ann Hazzard. It seeks to educate young children on identifying and confronting racial injustice in their lives.

“It just made me sad; it made me angry,” said district parent Annie Smith, whose husband is a member of Sarpy County law enforcement. “Gosh, it’s hard to put into words how much it affected me. I was literally shaking and angry,”

The story follows two families and shows young kids asking their parents questions about an incident that happened in their town: a white police officer shooting a Black man.

The problem that parents like Smith have with the book is when two characters say, “The cops shot him because he was black,” and that “cops stick up for each other, and they don’t like Black men.”

“It’s not a book that is representative of how we view our law enforcement,” said Annette Eyman, the director of communications for the school district.

“This particular book was not vetted appropriately,” she said. “We have a district-wide vetting process that we go through with all of our curriculum and things that are shared in our classroom and this did not go through that process.”

Eyman said it was an “honest mistake,” on behalf of the district as a whole.

“There is a way to be age-appropriate with children to talk about that, that is part of our landscape. Social injustice is not something you want to be sweeping under the rug. But trading one landscape for another doesn’t further that cause,” Smith says. “It just never should have been put in front of children.”

Smith says she’s glad the district is addressing the problem properly, but felt it should have been done sooner and more directly. Although her son was not in the class where the book was shown two weeks ago, she tells 6 News that a fellow law enforcement parent’s child was.

“It’s ok to make mistakes, we all do it but it just felt like it should’ve been addressed head-on, and it’s what you do once you realize a mistake has been made is what’s important to me and it’s that lack of transparency that I felt is really what got me kind of upset,” she says.

An apology letter from the district superintendent was sent out to parents earlier this week. It reads:

G. Stanley Hall Parents,

We want to make you aware of a situation that we have been dealing with at G. Stanley Hall. Over two weeks ago, as a part of our “Meaningful Monday” a book was shared with students. The purpose of the book was to promote the importance of including and accepting all students. However, the book was not properly vetted and contained information that was derogatory towards law enforcement. This was a mistake and we are truly sorry it happened. We are very fortunate at G. Stanley Hall and throughout the Papillion La Vista Community Schools to have an amazing partnership with our law enforcement. In no way does this book represent our thinking or beliefs about police. We are truly sorry that the book was not properly vetted and may have offended our students, families or community.

We want you to know that we have taken steps to be certain a mistake like this does not happen again. We have also sent a letter of apology to all of our local law enforcement agencies. Again, my sincere apologies for this mistake.

Superintendent Andrew Rikli also sent an apology letter to the police chiefs at La Vista Police, Papillion Police, and the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office.

“As soon as it was brought to our attention, our superintendent reached out to all of our chiefs of police and followed that up with a letter of apology,” Eyman says. “We are very fortunate in our school district to have a collaborative effort with our police, and the fact that this book said something other than that is very disheartening to all of us.”

Smith, however, tells 6 News she feels it shouldn’t be the Chief’s job to relay that apology to the rest of their departments; she thinks the district should have done it themselves.

She also says an apology letter should also be sent to law enforcement in other surrounding counties, as many of their children attend Papillion-La Vista schools.

Eyman said the district has re-emphasized the vetting process to all staff to ensure that similar situations don’t happen again. She also no one would be disciplined, as it was an “honest mistake.”

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