Chapel Hill News

Gay fable draws complaints at Orange County elementary school

In “King & King” by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, the prince tells his mother “I must say, though, I've never cared much for princesses.”
In “King & King” by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, the prince tells his mother “I must say, though, I've never cared much for princesses.”

A fable about a prince who marries another prince has brought a protester to school, parents to a public meeting and a third-grade teacher to the brink of resignation.

Efland-Cheeks Elementary School will hold a second public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Friday to hear complaints about the book “King & King” by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland.

Teacher Omar Currie, 25, in his second year at the school in rural western Orange County, said he read the book about three weeks ago because a boy was being bullied in his classroom. The students were studying fairy tales, and the book has been recommended for elementary school-age children, he said.

Currie, a graduate of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, where he first learned about the book, said he got the copy he read from his school’s assistant principal.

On Wednesday, ruling on a formal complaint from a parent, a school committee upheld the use of the book. A one-page report from Principal Kiley Brown and Assistant Principal Meg Goodhand said the fractured fairy tale form of the book and its diverse subject matter met third-grade curriculum goals.

Neither administrator returned phone calls. Brown declined to speak with a reporter at the school Thursday morning, saying an interview would have to be scheduled through the Orange County Schools spokesman.

But Currie said the ruling from the school came with two new requirements:

▪ Teachers must give parents a list of all the books they plan to read in class. Currie estimated that during a 180-day school year, he may read 500 books.

▪ Teachers must fill out a form for each bullying incident.

“Those things do not show support,” Currie said of the requirements. He serves on a school leadership committee and said his handling of students’ behavior has never been questioned.

He said he now feels that he lacks support from the principal and school district and plans to resign at the end of the school year.

“Our first and No. 1 job is to keep students safe,” he said. “I’m not sure we can keep students safe when we are picking and choosing the families we represent in our school.”

How it started

The incident began when some students started calling a boy who acts “a little feminine” a girl and “the term gay was used in a derogatory way,” Currie said.

He called the school’s media center, which did not have the book but referred him to Goodhand, who gave him a copy, Currie said. He read it during a read-aloud period.

The next day, Currie said Brown told him he should have notified parents beforehand.

A parent who does not have a child in Currie’s class came to the school to protest the book – and Currie – last Friday. Three sheriff’s deputies were present as a precaution, Sheriff Charles Blackwood said. The man exited the school but carried a protest sign along a nearby road.

Currie said administrators pulled him out of his classroom to tell him about the man. A short time later, he said, officials told him and another teacher who had taken their students outside for recess to come back indoors.

“Here I am with my children and we’re running back into the building,” Currie said. “That moment was very scary for me.”

Parents disagree

Frederick McAdoo, 53, who attended the school in the late 1960s, has put three children through Efland-Cheeks. He saw the man with the sign on the road last week.

“It doesn’t fit in,” McAdoo said of reading a tale featuring gay characters to third-graders.

“People have been gay for years. People have been lesbian for years,” the retired power company worker said Thursday. “But why (does) a third-grader needs to know about that?”

Matthew Roberts, who has had two sons taught by Currie, said he supports the reading of the book.

“I don’t remember any sexual language in the book,” said Roberts, 57. “It dealt openly and very sensitively with two men getting married. ... We have to be accepting of different lifestyles,” he said. “As America has evolved, what used to be inappropriate is not inappropriate anymore.”

The school system has received three formal complaints about the book, Orange County Schools spokesman Seth Stephens said.

The first complaint led to a public meeting May 6, which about 30 people attended, Stephens said.

The second and third complaints triggered Friday’s public meeting at the school, which Stephens said will likely draw a bigger crowd.

“Parents are very much involved in this issue,” he said. “It’s gotten the attention of a lot of folks.”

Teacher plans to resign

Currie said several students at Efland-Cheeks have two moms or two dads.

The bullying in his classroom stopped after he read the book, he added, and the boy who had been called names told the school’s literacy specialist how much he liked it.

“I think he probably felt reassurred (sic) for the first time that he was okay just the way he was,” the specialist wrote in an email to Currie.

Currie said the reaction to the book caught him off guard. “I figured there might be one or two families that might object to the content,” he said. “But I thought we would have a conversation about it.”

As for his students, he said three or four of the 24 he teaches expressed some discomfort with the story of two men getting married.

“I said it’s totally fine that you are uncomfortable with that,” he said. “Whenever you have something new come to you, it’s OK to feel uncomfortable.”

But now it’s Currie who feels uncomfortable.

“At this point it’s extremely difficult to continue the work I want to do at Efland,” he said. “I worry that my presence at Efland is not what’s best for the children. ... My kids are talking about it (the controversy), and we have to buckle down and focus.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

The review committee’s report

The school-based Media Review Committee convened on April 28 after “King & King” was used in a third-grade class and a parent complained that parents should have been given notice and the opportunity to opt out before the book was read to the class..

The committee members read the book and evaluated it. On May 6, an open meeting was held at Efland-Cheeks. People interested in the issue, including the parent who complained, spoke both in favor and against retention of the book.

A majority of the Review Committee determined that:

1. The book did not violate the constitutional or other legal rights of the complaining parent or student.

2. It was “not appropriate to accommodate the complainant’s objections.” In particular, the committee concluded that the fractured fairy tale form of the book and its diverse subject matter met third-grade curriculum objectives.

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