A kiss between two princes set off a firestorm in Efland, North Carolina – on the western end of Orange County. A simple book, “King & King,” brought out fears of homosexual education to third graders – rather than an interest in the events that triggered an important character-building lesson for an effeminate boy and his classmates. The Chapel Hill News and WCHL/Chapelboro both deserve credit for reporting that brought out the real story behind the controversy.
Efland-Cheeks Elementary School responded to the first parent complaint with a swift and careful review of the book – and a decision to continue to allow it. Then two subsequent complaints triggered repeat reviews under Orange County Schools (OCS) district policy, and disrupted education and learning. All of this just before end-of-grade testing, which is an already stressful time for teachers and students. OCS admits that outdated policies are contributing to the need for protracted, repeat reviews. While the district sorts this out, the school is poised to pay the price.
Efland is already a beleaguered from a long history of low-performing students and high teacher turnover. Roughly half the students are white, a third black, and the rest Hispanic. Over half the students qualify for free and reduced lunches, and too many kids are performing below grade level.
Despite its challenges, Efland is a wonderful school where acceptance and tolerance are key. In addition to its ethnic diversity, Efland families reflect a variety of family models including married and single parents, bi-racial and same-sex parents, incarcerated parents, grandparents and foster parents. The school recognizes that emotional and social support are essential to quality education, and “normal” recognizes the challenges of behavior and character development. Hugs are integral to the daily curriculum.
The school’s newest leaders, Kiley Brown and Meg Goodhand, have been working tirelessly with teachers, parents and district leaders to restore quality to the educational programs. They’ve added a tutoring program, and are planning Efland’s first summer school to help kids who are falling behind. The long-term vision is to become a year-round school – which is a better fit for the working families in the community. Omar Currie and many other dedicated teachers are integral to the school’s transformation. The strength of the new team showed during a public hearing when Efland teachers showed unequivocal support for their peers – including Mr. Currie and the school’s media review team.
If you are among the many who assumed that the backlash on “King & King” was a widespread, conservative reaction, think again. Efland is exactly what we aspire to be – diverse, accepting and tolerant. Now more than ever, this important school needs support from the school district and the community-at-large so they can get back to the business of educating their own princes and princesses.
Bonnie Hauser is a long time volunteer at Efland Cheeks Elementary School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org