Capistrano School Board is Diversifying its Libraries

February 19, 2021 Updated: February 19, 2021

The Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) is adding two books to its curriculum that support the district’s plans for a cultural proficiency program.

“The recommended books underscore the importance of the interconnectivity of marginalized and understudied populations in both history and literature,” says a CUSD report. “The additional titles will support an inclusive and equitable curriculum that will provide students with diverse perspectives from Black, Indigenous and People of Color, women, and marginalized characters and authors.”

During a Feb. 17 meeting, the school board approved the addition of two books to its libraries.

The Nickel Boys is a 2019 novel by Colson Whitehead. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book is based on the true story of the Dozier School, a Florida reform school that had its history of systematic racism exposed by a university investigation.

The novel is for students in grades 10 through 12.

The district’s textbooks are reviewed by the Instructional Materials Review Committee and approved, if voted for unanimously. If the books receive one no vote, they go to the school board for the decision.

It did not receive unanimous approval because it “contains material that may be considered inappropriate as it explores abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida,” says the report.

The plan includes the acquisition of books that increase the representation of diverse authors.

The second book, Maus, is a graphic novel memoir of the Holocaust that metaphorically depicts Jewish people as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs.

The book is meant for grades 6 through 8.

One mother, whose children attend school in the district, said she found the cultural proficiency material “troubling.”

“It makes broad generalizations about race, privilege, and discrimination,” she said during the board meeting. “It suggests negative role plays involving discrimination and hate, rather than positive experiences that might teach kids how to better accept and celebrate one another’s differences.”

Another mother, whose child is in Grade 7, said one of the books is “loaded with profanity” and “sexual content,” and called on the school board to rethink their decision to show the book to children in middle school.

Many public speakers were in favor of adding cultural proficiency to CUSD’s curriculum, and some upset the board postponed the decision to do so until its next meeting.

One public commenter said the district shouldn’t “cast aside a work just because it has sensitive material in it.”

“It is important to hear diversity of voices in our classrooms so that all students feel they matter, not just that comprise the majority,” she said.

Another commenter called Colson Whitehead, the author of Nickel Boys, a role model.

“He wrote a powerful story about dignity and redemption within 200 pages,” she said.

During its next meeting April 27, the school board will vote to adopt the cultural proficiency curriculum.

The lessons would apply to grades K-12 and would introduce students to age-appropriate material surrounding empathy, belonging, compassion, anti-racism, stereotypes, and more.

The SJC school district created a cultural proficiency team and task force that was approved by the board last December to adopt cultural proficiency lessons.