School board bans book from classroom
Language on ‘two moms or two dads’ at issue
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ERIE – Some families may have two moms or two dads, but the Erie school board is apparently uncomfortable relating that information to elementary school students.
Last month, the board voted 5-2 to stop using “The Family Book” as part of its curriculum to promote diversity and tolerance.
The book includes a sentence on each page about families: “Some families are big.” “Some families are different colors.” “All families like to hug each other.”
Just one sentence was at issue: “Some families have two moms or two dads.”
The elementary school has used the book in classrooms for a year, but some parents objected to that one sentence.
The district had formed a seven-member committee to review the book. A majority supported it, including Joe Weaver, its chairman and a school board member. The teachers on the panel also backed it, he said.
“Teachers don’t like to have materials banned,” Weaver said Tuesday. “We hire educators as responsible experts in getting the right materials to use in their everyday training.”
Aaron Sweeney, the youth minister at Erie Christian Church, prayed with others before the school board meeting when the decision was made. Some parents thought it was too early to address sexual issues with children, he said.
“They [parents] are aware that homosexuals are around,” Sweeney said. “The majority of parents don’t have an issue with them. They want sexual issues talked about at home, not have the schools do it.”
As part of its vote against the book, the board rejected the use of any curriculum materials from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
The network had recommended “The Family Book,” which was written a decade ago. Some parents, Weaver said, had more of a problem with the network’s recommendation than with the book itself.
Rhonda Pannier, the other member who voted to keep the book, said it was acceptable.
She said the reference to “two moms or two dads” could be interpreted in different ways.
“If you were to ask my stepdaughter, she would say she had two moms and two dads,” Pannier said.
The book’s author, Todd Parr, said his book hadn’t been banned in a classroom anywhere else. When it first came out, he said, teachers reported a few isolated rumblings from parents.
“I don’t view it as being about sexuality at all,” said Parr, who lives in Berkeley, Calif. “My mom was sick and passed away when I was young. I felt we were the only family that wasn’t normal.”
He said he wrote the book so no other children would feel as he did.
“My book doesn’t tell what is right or wrong,” he said. “I didn’t invent these types of families. My focus in writing is to be open and help everyone.”
He said his book was written independently of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Superintendent Brad Cox recommended against using “The Family Book.”
“It was clear to me early on that there wasn’t going to be board support for this,” he said. “I very rarely make a recommendation that I know the board will not support.”
Asked for his opinion on the book, Cox said that was irrelevant.
He said he had seen two petitions against the board’s decision, containing a total of about 100 signatures, some of which are from non-Erie residents.
“All we’re doing is changing our instructional materials,” Cox said. “We will still teach diversity and tolerance and use our anti-bullying curriculum.”
Weaver said Cox wanted to make a “unilateral” decision against using the book, without a board vote.
“That wasn’t acceptable to me,” Weaver said. “We should take official action.”
So the board took a vote. Members Gail Young, Charles Brown, Tammy Tegeler, Mike Heun and Thomas Pons voted against the book.
Cox said one board member wanted the issue on the meeting agenda. He also acknowledged a “disconnect” between the staff and the board’s decision on the book.
Asked whether that disconnect put him in a tough position, he responded, “Yes and no.” He didn’t elaborate.
Village leader caught in book crossfire
ERIE – The Erie school board’s decision against the use of a book that speaks of “two moms or two dads” is making waves on the Internet.
One blogger interviewed Erie’s village president, Marcia Smith. His piece on the school controversy was headlined, “Erie, Illinois Mayor Marcia Smith Suggests Children by Same-Sex Couples Not Welcome in Town.”
The trouble with that headline: The story doesn’t support it.
The story appeared on the website for the New Civil Rights Movement. Other sites have linked to it.
Last month, a majority of school board members voted to stop using “The Family Book” in the elementary school after some parents objected to it.
According to the online story, blogger Scott Rose called Smith and asked, “Are elementary school-aged children being raised by gay parents welcome in Erie?”
He said the line went dead. He called again.
This time, she said she didn’t know anything about the school board issue, he reported.
He repeated his question, but he said she hung up.
In an interview with Sauk Valley Media, Smith, a real estate agent, said the blogger was abrasive.
She said the story’s headline wasn’t true.
“I never said that,” she said. “First of all, I don’t know that much about [the school issue]. Obviously, he [Rose] misconstrued what I said. I’m not familiar with the situation.”
Rose defended the headline in an email.
“In my judgment, it is correct to say that the mayor suggests that elementary-school children of same-sex parents are not welcome in town, if I pose her the question of whether they are, and she then hangs up on my ear,” he wrote. “To not take a stand is to enable the haters.”
In his piece, Rose criticized the district’s decision, accusing the board of being pressured by a “cabal of theocratic anti-gay bigots in Erie.”
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