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Book Flap Spurs Calls To Reflect Diversity on Board

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A challenge over the use of a children's book in a suburban Chicago district ended with the resignation of the school board president last week in an effort to promote racial diversity.

The school board in the Flossmoor, Ill., district decided at a Nov. 12 meeting to remove the book, War Comes to Willie Freeman, from the curriculum at the K-8 Western Avenue School after its contents prompted a parent to complain.

The book by James Collier, which chronicles the adventures of an African-American girl during the Revolutionary War, contains racial slurs and includes a scene in which a soldier, questioning the girl's gender, grabs her breast.

The debate over the book's use in a 5th grade social studies class may prove to be a catalyst for change in the 2,500-student district 30 miles south of Chicago.

It has focused attention on the changing racial makeup of the K-8 district and prompted calls from parents for an African-American to be appointed to the school board.

Though 27 percent of the district's students are black, the seven-member board, whose members are elected to four-year terms by an at-large vote, is all white. Though African-Americans have run for seats on the board, local officials say there has not been a black member in more than a decade.

Diane Schaar-Bressack, the board president, said she has long wanted to rectify that situation, and that the lack of diversity lay behind her decision to resign. In an interview last week, she said that although she believed the content of the book was questionable, the controversy was not the reason she stepped down.

'A Lot of Good People'

"I have been on the board for seven years, and I had been contemplating resigning for several months," she said."I know that it could open up an opportunity for an African-American."

She said she hopes the remaining board members will use the opportunity to appoint an African-American to replace her.

The race issues raised in the district are not new, said Superintendent Dean Collopy. There have been only one or two African-American board members in the history of the board, he said.

Many current board members are frustrated with the lack of diversity, Ms. Schaar-Bressack said.

"The board needs to reflect the community," she said. "How can this all-white board represent the needs of the black community?"

Ms. Schaar-Bressack's resignation will be effective in January. The board will then have 30 days to appoint someone to fulfill the remainder of her term, which runs until 1999.

"This community is very involved," Ms. Schaar-Bressack said. "There are a lot of good people out there who can do what I'm doing."

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