Hoover City Schools canceled Derrick Barnes’ visit. He says it’s political.
Children’s book author Derrick Barnes had been scheduled to offer several talks in the Birmingham area next week. But now, none will happen.
Barnes believes the reasons for the cancellations are political. The author and his supporters also say the incident is part of a trend to limit access to books that feature Black protagonists.
The visits were originally to be at three Hoover elementary schools. Barnes and his agent had been in talks with Hoover City Schools since April.
But last week, school officials abruptly canceled the visits by the award-winning author, initially saying the reason for the cancellation was a contract issue. Later, school officials admitted it was also because a parent complained about a social media post Barnes allegedly made.
WBHM asked for copies of the post, but no one at the school system was able to produce it. Upon further inquiry, a spokesperson for the school system also admitted that no school officials had even seen the post.
Barnes says the school system should have been honest from the beginning.
“It’s just so cowardly to me,” Barnes said. “If you have an issue with Black authors or somebody that you may consider possibly indoctrinating your children, just say that. Don’t come up with these excuses.”
Misty Mathews’ son attends one of the schools Barnes was supposed to visit. She’s frustrated.
“If you’ve looked at his books, they’re not controversial,” Mathews said. “They just involve Black kids doing regular everyday things. So, to tell this author, ‘You’re not welcome here,’ it really sends a message that I don’t think Hoover City Schools should be sending or that they want to send.”
Mathews is also concerned that a vocal minority could have caused the district to scuttle the visits.
“It seems like it was one or two parents who complained about the situation and that seems to have been sufficient to cause a change.”
“It’s very frustrating that these few voices kind of dictate what other people’s children read or what kind of authors come to their school,” he said. “This is asinine. I hope this is squelched and we are not going in this direction.”
Controversies concerning race, however, are on the rise. In 2021, the Alabama Board of Education banned teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools. That rule came even after State Superintendent Eric Mackey acknowledged that the state had yet to receive any complaints about critical race theory being taught by a teacher in the state.
A bill narrowly failed in the Alabama legislature last year that would’ve prohibited the teaching of “divisive concepts” related to race, as well as religion and sex in public K-12 schools, colleges, universities and certain training programs. Another version of that bill has been pre-filed ahead of the state’s upcoming 2023 session.
With efforts like those in mind, Barnes sees the Hoover cancellation as part of a larger struggle.
“I want this to blow over and just go again where I’m wanted,” he said. “But I can’t just let it blow over if I have an opportunity to say something.”
Still, the incident hit a nerve.
“I try to write books that God willing, hopefully — I mean, it may sound corny — to write books that make the world a better place, and to get this kind of response, man, it’s really, it’s disheartening.”
Because of the Hoover schools’ cancellations, Barnes has scrapped a talk at the Hoover Public Library. He says he’s worried a visit there could attract protestors or worse. A talk at an elementary school in the Alabaster City School district will still take place, though Barnes will attend virtually.