Chapel Hill News

200 fill Orange County school meeting on gay fable

Efland-Cheeks Elementary teacher Omar Currie turns to acknowledge the applause of his fellow teachers and parents after an impassioned speech in front of the school's media review committee in the school gym Friday evening, May 15, 2015. Currie is at the center of a controversy of reading an approved gay themed fable book to kids in his elementary class. Over two hundred turned out Friday to speak to the review committee on the issue of the controversial book read to children at the school.
Efland-Cheeks Elementary teacher Omar Currie turns to acknowledge the applause of his fellow teachers and parents after an impassioned speech in front of the school's media review committee in the school gym Friday evening, May 15, 2015. Currie is at the center of a controversy of reading an approved gay themed fable book to kids in his elementary class. Over two hundred turned out Friday to speak to the review committee on the issue of the controversial book read to children at the school. hlynch@newsobserver.com

A teacher who read his third-graders a book about two princes getting married after a bullying incident in his class got strong support Friday night, while some who spoke against the book said they’re now the ones being bullied.

About 200 people attended the meeting at Efland-Cheeks Elementary School, a school in western Orange County. A school policy requires a review committee to hold a public meeting whenever someone lodges a formal complaint about instructional materials.

Teacher Omar Currie, 25, in his second year at the school, said he read “King & King” by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland about three weeks ago because a boy in his class who acts “a little feminine” was being called a girl and the word gay was used in a derogatory way.

On Wednesday, the committee, acting on an earlier complaint, upheld the use of the book. But Currie said the principal also instituted new policies that require teachers to notify parents of all the books they plan to read in class and to fill out a form for every bullying incident.

On Friday night, speaking loud and fast in his allotted three minutes, Currie objected to the new rules.

“This egregious policy creates an undue burden on teachers, and it hurts students,” he said. “The district must understand silence is poison.”

Currie, who is gay, said his school and the district should have fully supported his decision to read the book, as he said happened in another system where a school district defended the book in court.

“In direct contrast ... here in Orange County I repeatedly heard from school officials that the book might have been appropriate to read in a more progressive area without parental consent, but in Efland we need time,” he said.

“These comments were made as if to persuade me that today is not the time to stand up and protect students ... but that change on all issues must come about slowly, even if the safety of my students is compromised.”

About three-quarters of the crowd supported Currie, judging by sustained applause after he spoke.

Kim Grooms said children should be exposed to a variety of cultures, “and it is disappointing that this teacher does not feel supported.”

Tyla Olson noted that gay people can now legally wed.

“We cannot shelter our children from same-sex marriage,” she said. “We should allow diversity to be taught in our school. Teach peace and acceptance.”

But several other speakers criticized Currie’s action.

They said the book, in which the two princes kiss on the last page, was inappropriate for third-grade children.

Some said other books that focused on bullying could have been used to address the incident and that the actions by Currie and the assistant principal who gave him the book showed a “homosexual agenda” at the school.

“I’ve been called a racist. I’ve been called a bigot, and I am none of those things,” said Lisa Baptist, a grandmother who said she worries children might act out what they saw in the book. “This is nothing more than bringing homosexuality into a school where it does not belong.”

Several parents said they should have been notified before Currie read the book.

“These are my children. These are not your children,” said Rodney Davis, who has two children at Efland-Cheeks. “What gives you the right to tell me what they can listen to and what they can hear in our school? That’s bullying.”

Shelby Tyson, who identified herself as a Christian, said she appreciates Currie’s zeal for teaching and that her objection was not personal.

“We’ve known there are homosexual teachers in this school for years,” she said. “It doesn’t bother us.”

“I do not believe relationships as described in this book are biblically sound,” she said. “Our children are still very young and emotionally immature. I do not believe they need to be educated on finding a soul mate ... between two men, two women or a man and a woman.”

School district spokesman Seth Stephens repeatedly told speakers to focus on the book and not individuals.

When Davis interrupted him, Stephens asked Davis to leave, which he did.

A week earlier, Davis had carried a sign outside the school that said, “Mr. Currie read the book ‘King & King’ (homosexual relationships) without parents nor school’s permission.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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