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Father sues district over reading about slavery

The father of a black student has sued a Detroit-area school district claiming that his daughter was racially harassed by a fifth-grade teacher's reading aloud from a book about slavery.

The suit claims Jala Petree's teacher at Margaret Black Elementary School in Sterling Heights read excerpts from Julius Lester's "From Slave Ship to Freedom Road" that contain racial epithets and racist characterizations, The Macomb Daily reported.

The suit against Warren Consolidated Schools was filed Nov. 3 in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens, according to court records. It was filed by Jala's father, Jamey Petree, and seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

District spokesman Bob Freehan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the district hasn't been served with the suit but plans a vigorous defense. He said the excerpts were read last school year during a unit to prepare students for Black History Month.

The reading was from supplemental material provided by a textbook company, Freehan said, and following the reading students were involved in what he called a "positive" discussion about the excerpts.

The lawsuit claims the reading has "affected the conditions of learning duties and the advantages of her further education, and seriously affected her mental and emotional well-being, past, present and future."

Lawyer Scott E. Combs, who is representing the family, told The Detroit News that letters and calls to the district failed to remedy the family's concerns over the literature and the parents eventually pulled the child from the district.

"I tried long and hard to get answers and an explanation from the school," he said.

Freehan, however, said the school has given the family and its lawyer detailed responses. He said family didn't inquire about the lesson until April, more than three months after the lesson was presented.

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