The decision to drop the American young adult novel The Hate U Give from Nova Scotia school curriculums appears to have been made before the Department of Education received or saw any formal complaints, according to newly released documents.
In September, CBC News reported the department removed the award-winning book, which is about a Black high school student who struggles with identity and trauma after she witnesses a police officer shoot and kill her friend, from its authorized learning resource list.
The book, however, is still available for students to read on their own if school libraries choose to carry it.
An official with the department's African Canadian services branch told CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax that they had received two complaints about the book, including one from a parent and one from an employee of a regional centre for education, due to its use of the N-word and other profanities, which spurred the decision to delist the book.
"The resource was identified by some of our regional centres as being problematic," Paul Ash said in September.
"We reviewed the resource based on the concerns that they expressed and agreed, and we decided to remove it off of the authorized learning resources."
LISTEN | A full debrief about what was learned from the request:
Following that conversation, CBC News requested more information about the complaints and how the decision to drop the book was made by filing a freedom of information request.
That request yielded several pages of email correspondence between staff at the Department of Education that revealed some details about one complaint and more information about the process — as well as feedback from some educators who had questions about how a decision like this is made.
It also showed that the department delisted the book in October 2022, prior to the one complaint included in the records.
One complaint on record
The documents didn't contain any records of a complaint from a parent. The department said a regional centre for education received one but it did not forward a record directly.
The one complaint included in the documents came from an equity and human rights consultant employed by a regional centre for education. It's unclear if that is the same complaint from a regional centre that Ash referred to in his interview.
"This book is problematic given its language content," Joe Bishara wrote in an email to an official with the Education Department on Jan. 25, 2023. He continued to say that it failed to measure up against the department's Know the Signals assessment tool.
That assessment tool was implemented in 2021, and is used by the department to determine what resources are appropriate to use in schools when teaching topics that affect and reflect the Black community.
The documents revealed that the book had been reviewed using this guide during the 2021-22 school year, but staff couldn't come to a conclusion on it. The records released to CBC do not detail if anything specific prompted the review.
Tracy Griffin, the department official who responded to Bishara earlier this year, agreed that the book "does not pass Know the Signals," and that was the reason it was delisted.
The Know the Signals guide has three different categories, including Stop: Do Not Use, Wait: Consult and Go: Use.
The first category outlines criteria for when material shouldn't be used in schools, including any resource that "depicts violence towards a group of Black individuals and has the potential to expose students to traumatizing events and images."
It also says a material shouldn't be used if it uses racist terms or portrays Black and African Nova Scotians from a "deficit, stereotypical and racist perspective."
The Hate U Give does depict violence against a Black individual and some Black characters use the N-word.
Teacher weighs in
The documents showed that some teachers had concerns about the delisting process, including one who voiced her opinion to the department via email.
"It feels very uncomfortable to censor books (as a white teacher in particular) that are first voices like Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Alice Walker, Lawrence Hill, etc.," Tammie Landry, a literacy facilitator for Halifax Regional Centre for Education, wrote in May 2023.
"Are we sending the message that the topics, experiences, language a Black author chooses to use are not welcome as a choice in high school? How do we address systemic racism and disrupt inequalities from our history, without the history?"
When CBC News first reported the delisting of The Hate U Give, an official with the Education Department said it's working closely with the African Canadian Services branch to select a number of resources that would provide education about African Nova Scotia cultures, histories and contributions.
The documents also noted that teachers had asked whether there was a central list of delisted resources, including the reasons, but officials said there was no such list — or at least not at the time.
CBC News contacted the Education Department for an interview to clarify how and when the decision was made, but it was unable to accommodate the request.
"The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is committed to inclusive education," the spokesperson said in an email.
Education and understanding
Following CBC's coverage, Kesa Munroe-Anderson, a professor at Acadia University's School of Education, said before material like The Hate U Give can be taught in schools, there must be uniform and mandatory training that prepares all teachers to teach it in a culturally responsive way.
"The only way to improve that situation is through education and understanding. First of all, we must learn to be comfortable with uncomfortable topics of discussion like racism and anti-Black racism in this province and in this country," Munroe-Andrerson told Information Morning.
"We need to have critical, courageous conversations where we can engage in critical social justice using an equity lens and anti-racism lens in general in society and then specifically in schools."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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