CBLDF has joined the Kids’ Right to Read Project and other freedom to read advocates to defend Todd Parr’s The Family Book in the Etiwanda, California school district. The parents of one formerly enrolled student want the book banned from transitional kindergarten classrooms due to its inclusion of families with same-sex parents.
The Family Book informs children via simple sentences and colorful pictures about all of the different types of families that exist: stepfamilies, mixed-race families, single-parent families, adoptive families, and so on. But the single page that draws the ire of some parents is the one that says: “Some families have two moms or two dads.” Although this is simply a factual statement which many children have likely already observed among their own friends and classmates, Ryan and Ashley McKeehan are pushing to ban the book because they say that page makes it “not age-appropriate” for elementary school students.
The McKeehans’ four-year-old son was formerly enrolled in a transitional kindergarten class, an optional program similar to pre-kindergarten. The teacher has used the book in a unit on families for at least two previous school years, but this time she happened to read it to the class on a day that Ryan McKeehan was volunteering as a classroom aide. At a school board meeting on September 24, McKeehan said that he initially raised his concern directly with the teacher by email. When she replied that diversity and inclusion are values she wishes to cultivate in her classroom, the McKeehans chose to disenroll their son. In his public statement before the school board, Ryan McKeehan said he felt the teacher had “stepped outside of her teaching guidelines.”
Both McKeehans also adopted the syllogistic argument that because the book has been “controversial” in other places and times — it was banned from the Erie, Illinois school district in 2012 and from kindergarten classes in Venice, Italy this year — Etiwanda schools should simply choose another book that won’t offend anyone. “There’s plenty of other books that aren’t surrounded with controversy,” Ryan McKeehan said, “so why have material in the library that’s going to irritate the parents?”
After a review committee decided in October that The Family Book should remain available to parents, students, and staff, the McKeehans appealed that decision to the school board, which was to make a final ruling at a meeting last week. In the letter, which CBLDF co-signed, KRRP asked board members to make their decision in the interest of all Etiwanda students:
As you consider your decision, we hope you will keep in mind that removing a book with such established pedagogical merit in response to subjective complaints about its content would not only disserve Etiwanda’s students, but would also raise serious First Amendment concerns. As the Supreme Court has cautioned, “Local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’” Boards of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982) (plurality opinion).
Read the full letter below, and stay tuned for updates after the board meeting!