Harrison County

Parent who complained about ‘Mockingbird’ speaks out at school board meeting

Yolanda Williams, left, and her mother, Jessica Williams, told the Biloxi School Board on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, evening that it wasn't just "To Kill A Mockingbird" that was offensive about the curriculum for the eighth grade but other things, including the study of ammunition used in the Civil War.
Yolanda Williams, left, and her mother, Jessica Williams, told the Biloxi School Board on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, evening that it wasn't just "To Kill A Mockingbird" that was offensive about the curriculum for the eighth grade but other things, including the study of ammunition used in the Civil War. klnelson@sunherald.com

Yolanda Williams and her mother, Jessica Williams, told the Biloxi School Board on Tuesday evening that it wasn’t just “To Kill A Mockingbird” that was offensive about the curriculum for the eighth grade but other things, including the study of ammunition used in the Civil War.

The two women complained to the school after Yolanda’s child was assigned to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and students were using a racial slur in the classroom.

Yolanda Williams said she found out that students were saying the N-word and laughing in the classroom, and it was offensive.

“Students were laughing out loud at the teacher’s response. That’s unacceptable to me,” she told the board. “Is there not a better way to teach about that era and the horrors of that era, other than having kids laughing in class when the N-word is said? It should not be required reading for all students. My child shouldn’t have to sit in that class like that.

“It’s not a conducive environment,” Yolanda Williams said. “It’s not just the book, but supplemental material that had the N-word.

“We have to get to the point where we have zero tolerance for that,” she said. “The school board needs to take a real look at the curriculum as a whole. I think something has gone amiss. There’s a serious issue and it’s not uncomfortable, it’s outrageous.”

Jessica Williams said they are a military family that came to Biloxi more than 20 years ago, and her grandchild was raised not to see herself as black.

“Is there no better way to teach?” she asked the school board. “My (grand)child should not have to sit in a classroom like that.”

After addressing the board, Jessica Williams told the Sun Herald they followed the school policy and met with a principal and a teacher about the offensive situation.

Their child was given alternative reading material. And when they were waiting to find out where the child would study when the rest of the class was studying “Mockingbird,” they learned the school board had pulled the book and everything had blown up in the media.

“We were pleased we had read the Biloxi school policy and that you could put in a request for alternative material,” Jessica Williams said. “As far as we were concerned, we were done and happy.”

She said they didn’t ask that “To Kill a Mockingbird” be pulled for the whole class.

Yolanda Williams disagreed, saying “I wanted my child to be treated like everyone else’s child and being taught separately was outrageous.”

School policy says when a student or parent rejects reading materials, alternate material should be provided. If a principal can’t satisfy the complaint, the policy requires a review committee, and no administrator, librarian or teacher should pull teaching material without referring to the committee.

Superintendent Arthur McMillan made a statement after the meeting that confirmed “To Kill A Mockingbird” is no longer required reading for the eighth grade.

“Let me be very clear ... this decision to change resources did not violate any policy because the book has NOT been removed from our school. Not only has it not been removed, but every single eighth grader was given a copy of the book which they still have unless they chose to return it, and it remains on our library shelves at the junior high as well as the high school.

“Book study sessions will be made available by our eighth grade teachers for those students that would like to continue studying the book.

“Let me reiterate — this book has not been banned, this book has not been taken away from students, no school policy has been violated and students continue to be afforded the opportunity to read and study this book.”

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