ERIE, Ill. — After hearing empassioned comments from members of the Erie community at a special meeting Thursday night, the Erie School Board stood by its decision to seek new anti-bullying materials for use in grades K-4.
In May, board members voted 5-2 to remove materials that were being used, which were developed by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, after parents requested they be reviewed. The district’s materials selection committee reviewed the materials and found them to be age-appropriate, but the board voted against the recommendation of the committee.
Among the materials the board voted to remove was the book “The Family Book,” by Todd Parr. There were concerns about a statement in the book that some families include two moms or two dads.
“The board listened to the people of the district,” school board president Charles Brown told the more than 140 people who packed the middle school cafeteria for the special meeting.
Brown advised the audience that the board “did not ban any books or materials from the school.”
“We chose to get other teaching materials from another place,” he said.
Brown added that Thursday’s special meeting was called because some parents and members of the community believed their voices were not being heard. When the public comment session ended, board members decided not to reopen discussion on their decision and adjourned the meeting.
In all, about 15 people spoke on both sides of the issue during the 45-minute meeting.
Stacy Bomleny was one of about a dozen people in the audience who wore stickers that said, “Teach Tolerance.”
“To my understanding, the disagreement is whether sexual orientation should be taught in school,” she said to the crowd. “While I fully support and agree that the teaching of any sexual-based content should be taught at home, the banned book and curriculum does not teach sexuality of any sort.
“It teaches children to respect and accept each other’s differences. The entire lesson is an anti-bullying campaign.
“I don’t want my child so sheltered from diversity that either he falls victim to someone’s intolerance, or he is the one who hurts someone,” Bomleny said.
Mindy Jepson told the audience that it is not up to the school to teach her children about diverse lifestyles. If parents need help in that regard, they can contact the school counselor for advice, she added.
“I’m all for anti-bullying,” Jepson said. But teaching diversity at the elementary level should not include sexual orientation.
“We as parents are ultimately responsible for what our children become,” she added.
Chad Von Holten said while anti-bullying and respect should be taught in the schools, it should not “be muddied up with a pro-homosexual agenda.”
Jason Norman said it is not up to the school to teach about same-sex relationships.
“As parents we want to guide what our kids are taught, especially when it comes to sexuality,” he said.
Chris Von Holten said he and his wife are responsible for teaching their children about sexuality when the proper time comes. “I don’t want to teach the birds and the bees until they’re older,” he said.
Jason Orman, who teaches social studies at Erie High School, said he sees bullying every day and hears the slurs some students use toward others.
Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox
“Elementary school is the proper time to teach tolerance,” he said.
As for the school board seeking new anti-bullying materials, he added, “Censorship leads to more censorship.”
Karen Carlson, a resident of Erie and a teacher in another school district, told the audience that selecting appropriate materials for teaching and meeting parents’ expectations “is a tough line to walk.”
“We can come to a compromise,” Carlson said. “Now, compromise won’t satisfy everybody. I do see bullying every day. But we can find common ground.”
School board member Mike Heun told the audience that he thought the meeting would help him determine a consensus of community opinion.
It didn’t, he said, pointing to the crowd and saying it appeared to be split 50-50.
Sean Leads, 20, who graduated from Erie High School in 2011, said after the meeting that as an openly gay student at the school, he was bullied.
“But even people who weren’t gay were bullied,” he said.
“I’m disappointed the board didn’t change its decision.”