ERIE, Ill. — Western Illinois University decided not to send a student to do a counseling internship at Erie Elementary School this fall because of a dispute over anti-bullying resources in the district.
The Erie School Board voted last month to remove a book and anti-bullying materials over concerns about a reference in the book to same-sex marriage and the source of the anti-bullying materials.
In April, parents filed a formal objection to the “The Family Book” by Todd Parr, and parents also objected to the use of materials for the school’s anti-bullying curriculum that came from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Superintendent Brad Cox said.
The book, which was part of the school’s anti-bullying
curriculum, teaches children about how families can be large or small, the same color or different colors, can includes stepmothers or stepfathers or adopted kids, and how some families have two moms or two dads.
The removal decision prompted Western Illinois University’s counselor education program to reverse its decision to allow a student to do an internship at Erie Elementary School this fall, university spokeswoman Darcie Shinberger said.
Shinberger said the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs, which provides the accreditation for the school’s counselor education program, emphasizes tolerance in its code of ethics.
She also said the school didn’t want to send a student into a controversial situation. Instead students should go to a district where they have “the best opportunity for growth and development.”
After the objections surfaced, the materials were reviewed by the district’s materials selection committee, which includes a board member, teacher, administrator, high school student, librarian and parents, Cox said.
While the committee determined that the material was appropriate for elementary school students, the board voted 5-2 in May to remove it after about 75 people attended the April and May school board meetings to voice their objections, Cox said.
Cox said the district will have to find different materials for the anti-bullying program, but the message will remain the same.
“We will still continue to teach diversity and tolerance,” he said. “We’re still going to take care of our kids.”
School board member Joe Weaver, who serves on the materials selection committee and voted to retain the materials, said there was “very little support” for the materials among the people who showed up to the two school board meetings and that the decision may have been made before many people in the community knew what was going on.
Weaver said he has received very little feedback of any kind from the community since the board’s decision.
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The decision has received national attention, which Weaver said may have “put us in a light we really don’t want to be in.”
Weaver said the objection to the materials may have had more to do with the source than its content.
Board president Charles Brown, who voted to remove the materials, declined to comment Monday, but said he is researching the issue and may have a comment later in the week.
Stacy Bomleny has two children who are students at Erie Elementary and said she is part of a group of about 70 parents who plan to ask the board to reverse its decision at the June 25 school board meeting.
Bomleny said she had heard there was opposition to the materials, but didn’t know there was an effort to have them removed until the decision had been made.
She said the purpose of the materials is to teach children to accept and respect each other’s differences.
“I fully support it,” she said.
Andy Marra, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said this was the first time the group’s materials had been removed from a school district and called the decision “puzzling.” He said the network has sent a letter to the district, seeking clarification of the reasons for the decision.