Fremont Public Schools has suspended distribution of the racial diversity and LGBTQ+ confirmation book in fall 2022 after complaints from several local parents, officials confirmed Monday, Jan. 23.
The book, titled “We’re All Welcome,” was purchased under a federal program by Washington Elementary School Superintendent Erica Kobza and, according to elementary school superintendent Mark Shepard, was distributed to students at the school with the goal of “promoting family literacy.”
Shepherd detailed the incident and how the book reached Washington Elementary in a lengthy email after a public records request made by the Fremont Tribune in response to an anonymous tip from a local resident.
In an email to the Tribune on Jan. 23, Shepard said the book was purchased under the federal Department of Education’s Title I, Part A: Parent and Family Involvement, section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
We’re All Hello is a 2018 picture book about diverse families written by New York-based author Alexandra Penfold. She is also the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop and We are Brothers, We are Friends, and is a New York Times bestselling children’s author.
According to the description of the book on Amazon.com, “All Welcome” is intended for children’s readers ages 2-6 and is classified as a “Children’s Book about Prejudice and Racism.” The book depicts diverse families with different racial, ethnic, and religious identities as well as families with disabilities. One section houses the unit for same-sex parents with a child.
In an anonymous letter mailed to the Fremont Tribune, a person identifying himself as a “concerned taxpayer”, alleged that Kobza improperly used federal funds to purchase the book for students without the approval or knowledge of county officials nor the FPS Board of Education. In the letter, the guide described the book as “promoting homosexuality”.
Shepard said the book was purchased from “First Book, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to “build a path out of poverty through equal education.” On the nonprofit’s website, the organization describes its mission as follows: The goal is bold As urgent as it is. To create systemic change. To ensure equal access to a quality education. To empower every teacher and all the needy children they serve.”
“Ms. Kobza stated that her intent was to continue to create an inclusive environment in Washington and celebrate the diversity of students and families that are in the school. I have received emails and met with parents of two families on this issue,” Shepard stated in an email. “Based on our research of Ms. Kobza’s email, only one parent expressed a concern related to the book directly.”
Contrary to rumors about the book’s use, Shepard said, there have been “not a dozen” complaints from the public about the book. He added that after receiving complaints from three groups of parents and a school district teacher, the district stopped distributing the book.
Ms. Kobza has agreed to withdraw any remaining copies of the book that were on the premises. A copy of the book was given this fall to parents during back-to-school by a teacher who was not employed at Washington (elementary school) last year and was also withdrawn on the day Next,” Shepherd stated in the email. “In either case, the book was not removed for the sake of content but could potentially disrupt the educational process.”
Shepherd also said that the book has not been used at any other Fremont Public Schools locations and its purchase has been approved by the district’s Director of Professional Education and Federal Programs. He added that the use of the book stopped.
According to various descriptions from ESEA Online, the Federal Law Section is intended to provide “information regarding the implementation of programs, activities, and procedures involving parents and family members of Title I students.”
“Title I, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires that local educational agencies (LEAs) communicate with all parents and family members and implement programs, activities, and procedures to engage parents and family members,” the California Department of Education explanation explains. “Such programmes, activities and procedures should be planned and implemented in meaningful consultation with the parents of the participating children.”
In a Virginia Commonwealth University report on ESEA by researcher Catherine Ball, part of the university’s Social Welfare History Project, this act was a focus of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s platform for social justice and welfare.
“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was a cornerstone of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty’. This act put education at the forefront of the national assault on poverty and represented a landmark commitment to equal access to quality education,” Paul writes. “As provided by law, funds are permitted for professional development, educational materials, and resources to support educational programs and promote parental involvement.”
The controversy over the Fremont Public Schools’ “All Hello” book occurred prior to the current controversy and dispute over the availability of the book, “Sex is a Funny Word” at the Fremont Kane City Memorial Library.
Keene Memorial Library is not affiliated with Fremont Public Schools in any way and is owned and operated by the City of Fremont. There, the very existence of “sex as a funny word” was officially challenged by local grandmother and downtown business owner, Sandra Murray.
Murray first complained about five books during a December 27 meeting of the Fremont City Council, four of which were titles dealing with LGBT issues and topics. Murray has since filed a formal complaint to remove “Sex is a Funny Word” entirely from the library. The decision on this complaint has been made, but has not yet been made public.
In response to Murray’s complaints, on December 28 library officials moved seven shared books on sex education for young adults from the children’s section of the library to the adult section, where they had to be examined by an adult for a minor as young as 17 to see. or smaller.
Nate Grash, director of policy for the Family Alliance of Nebraska, said that while he is not aware of specific complaints against the use of “All Are Welcome” in Fremont public schools, the use of books that contain topics that the organization feels should be left to parents is a big issue in the field. Nebraska, nationwide, and in schools and libraries.
“Our view is that parents are the primary educator for their children. Schools and libraries should work together with parents,” said Grass. “We’ve continued to hear from concerned parents in Fremont and from all over Nebraska. It’s a big issue.”
Abby Swatsworth, executive director of Out Nebraska, a statewide LGBTQ+ community advocacy organization, said she’s not familiar with “All Are Welcome,” but after doing some research on the book, she thinks it’s an appropriate educational book for young children that teaches respect and appreciation. of diversity.
“We talk about respect and not causing harm, and one of the principles of respect is acknowledging that there is a group,” said Swatsworth. “Limiting exposure for a book as innocuous as this, which deals with diversity beyond just LGBT, is disappointing. LGBT families exist all over (Nebraska).”
Shepherd said he and other district officials are listening and responding accordingly to parental input and feedback on books and curricula.
“Our district prides itself on being transparent in everything we do. We have an open book policy when it comes to curriculum, budget, taxation and policies/procedures.” We work closely with parents when there are situations that are brought to our attention. Public trust is hard to gain and easily lost.
“We take our responsibility to care for all students very seriously and never want a parent to be heard. Part of that responsibility is ensuring that materials are age appropriate and that there is an environment where all students feel safe in every situation. We send over and over again the message that if someone feels Otherwise, he should share his concerns with an adult so that we can address the issue appropriately.”