Erie school board criticized for removing book referencing gay families


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Originally Posted Online: June 07, 2012, 9:54 pm
Last Updated: June 07, 2012, 10:21 pm
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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

A decision by the Erie School District Board of Education to stop teachers from using a book that mentioned that "some families have two moms or two dads" has been criticized as "a step backward" by a national anti-bullying organization.

The board voted 5-2 last month to remove The Family Book by Todd Parr from use in the district's elementary school. The book had been used as part of an anti-bullying program but some parents thought the reference to gay families was inappropriate.

School board member Joe Weaver voted against removing the book and said some teachers had since expressed "deep concern" about the decision to effectively ban its use and were worried about what parents might push for next.

Parents had challenged use of the book earlier this year. In response, the district convened its material selection committee to investigate. The committee, of which Mr. Weaver is a member, found the book was appropriate. But the school board overturned that decision.

The book was part of a program sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which released a statement Wednesday describing the board's vote as "both puzzling and deeply counterproductive" and a decision that "represented a step backward by the community."

"GLSEN has a stellar track record of providing educationally and developmentally appropriate resources to thousands of districts across the country for grades K-5, and our materials for the elementary grades enjoy broad support throughout the education and youth development worlds," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said.

Others were pleased with the district's decision.

Aaron Sweeney, a youth minister with Erie Christian Church, said he was approached by parents to give them "spiritual guidance" in their quest to have the book removed from the school.

"I prayed with them and was there for them," he said. "The parents felt that they should have the right to talk to their kids about that sexual issue on their own and that school should be for math and reading and topics like that and not this one."

Erie superintendent Brad Cox said between 75 and 100 parents showed up at the May school board meeting and only one person had spoken in favor of keeping the book in use. He declined to say if he personally supported the decision.

"This is classic example of how a representative democracy works," he said. "My job as a superintendent is to connect the community and school board to educational organization.

Calls and messages to school board members who voted to remove the book were not returned Thursday. Mr. Weaver said there was little discussion at the May school board meeting about the decision.

Ms. Byard, in the GLSEN statement, said she hoped to talk to school officials about the educational materials the organization promotes.

"We look forward to discussion with Erie district officials to understand and respond to their concerns and provide them with better information regarding the quality and effectiveness of our materials," she said.






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