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Friday July 23rd

Elementary school book stirs legislative controversy in Charlotte

At 32 pages, a small book called "Jacob’s New Dress" is causing a big controversy in Charlotte Mecklenburg schools.

The book, which showcases a young boy who wears dresses, was introduced in several schools as part of an anti-bullying lesson plan for first graders. But after a teacher submitted an anonymous complaint to the N.C. legislature, the book was removed in late March.

This is not the first time the school district has pulled a controversial book from its curriculum. A book referencing same-sex parents, "And Tango Makes Three," was removed in 2006. 

Charles Jeter, the legislative liaison for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and a former state representative, negotiated a deal with lawmakers to replace the book with another anti-bullying story.

“The lesson plan in and of itself was not geared to teaching familiarity or caution with transgendered students. It was designed to teach students to treat people the right way,” said Jeter. “You’ve got to recognize the times.”

After negotiations between Jeter, lawmakers and the school system, the book was replaced with "Red: A Crayon's Story," a story that has been used for several years in the kindergarten curriculum about a red crayon that feels like it is blue.

The N.C. Values Coalition, a conservative group and vocal supporter of HB2, found out about the book through an anonymous tip from a Charlotte teacher and mobilized a grassroots effort to email and call legislators in opposition to the book.

“Our elementary schools exist to educate our children — not to teach boys to wear a dress,” said Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the coalition.

Fitzgerald said part of their concern with the book was that parents were not notified of its inclusion in the curriculum and it was being taught to a captive audience of young students.

“No child should be bullied in school,” Fitzgerald said. “But using anti-bullying training and National Child Abuse Prevention Month as a front for normalizing transgendered behavior is wrong.”

The N.C. Values Coalition issued a statement against the new anti-bullying story, stating “the book is another attempt to push transgender curriculum on our children.”

But Jeter said he thinks the book is relevant to the state's political climate — which recently has included the partial repeal of HB2.

"I think the book, itself, played into a lot of what is going on in North Carolina today," he said. 

Rob Schofield, director of policy and research at left-leaning N.C. Policy Watch said he doesn’t believe children will have their gender identity damaged or influenced by reading a book that tells them to be nice to other children.

“We know for a fact that bullying is a huge problem in schools,” said Schofield. “And we know that bullying against LGBTQ students specifically is a problem.”

According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely as other students to report skipping school out of fear. And bullying of LGBTQ students is the second-most common type of bullying, behind bullying based on appearance and body type.

Jeter said the school system tried to be mindful of everyone and understand both sides of the issue.

“We can sit here and cherry pick books left and right, but ("Red: A Crayon's Story") didn’t cause an issue last year, and it won’t cause an issue this year, ” Jeter said.

He said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools try to be very proactive when it comes to bullying and harassment.

“I think CMS is certainly doing everything we can to eliminate bullying in our schools with every fiber of our being,” said Jeter. “We have 147,000 students that we are responsible for, and it’s incredibly important to us that each of those children and is safe and secure when they are in our buildings.”


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