Hamilton County school board draws complaints regarding cancellation of Mother’s Day lesson

Staff File Photo / Alpine Crest Elementary is seen on Stagg Drive in Red Bank, Tenn.
Staff File Photo / Alpine Crest Elementary is seen on Stagg Drive in Red Bank, Tenn.

A handful of people shared their views Thursday at the Hamilton County school board meeting on the administration's cancellation of an Alpine Crest Elementary librarian's Mother's Day lesson that aimed to include students without mothers in their lives.

The lesson included two books, "Stella Brings the Family" by Miriam B. Schiffer and "Mother Bruce" by Ryan T. Higgins.

The former is about a girl with two fathers that's set at a Mother's Day celebration, and the latter is about a male bear that a group of goslings believe is their mother, according to book descriptions on Amazon.

The conservative group Moms for Liberty objected to the nontraditional gender roles portrayed in the books.

In an emailed statement, district spokesman Steve Doremus said the administration "put a hold" on the lesson while district policies and procedures are reviewed and adjusted.

"The issue in question here is not the content selected, but the range of content available in the lesson that would have been inclusive to all family models," he said in the statement.

Rebecca Day asked the board to review board policy 4.402 on alternate assignments.

She referenced a note the librarian sent home with students to inform parents of the lesson and the option for their child to receive an alternate lesson in another location.

"The lesson plan targeted students between the ages of 5 and 8 and included instructional material that dealt with sexual orientation of parents," Day said, adding that sexual orientation is a personal quality that is federally protected from discrimination. "Had this plan been allowed to move forward, removing students from their normal learning location would not only have violated 4.402, but segregating the students may well have broken Tennessee state law, because the librarian planned to use supplemental instructional materials which would have literally divided and caused resentment based on personal qualities of parents."

Angela Favaloro, speaking on behalf of Moms for Social Justice, said the local parent group gathered more than 1,000 signatures in support of reinstating the lesson.

"I can wholeheartedly say that the majority of students, parents and teachers in Hamilton County believe in more fair opportunities without discrimination for all students," Favaloro said. "This was a great opportunity that is now gone. ...We the majority of parents in Hamilton County demand that the schools have integrity and opt in to reinstate the inclusive and fair option where everyone can win."

Stefanie Dalton, a parent of an Alpine Crest student, praised the librarian's frequent efforts to be inclusive of all students, such as those with dyslexia and sensory issues. Seeing the librarian bullied by adults "shook me to my core," Dalton said.

"What really shook me even more was the HCS leadership and administration's absolute failure, not only to stand up and support one of their most incredible and beloved educators, but their absolute failure to encourage and empower or to move forward with a lesson plan that didn't violate any established policy procedure or law," she said.

After the meeting, school board member Ben Connor, a Democrat who represents the Red Bank area where Alpine Crest is located, said by text that he is disappointed that the lesson was canceled before further discussion could take place.

"I plan to continue to listen to educators and parents and find the right course of action for our Hamilton County Schools," he said, adding that outside of one email "sensationalizing the situation," he has exclusively received calls and emails in support of the lesson. "At the end of the day, we must make certain we have clear and equitable policies in place to ensure our students can learn about our community in a positive and inclusive manner and thrive in Hamilton County and beyond. A thriving community engages and supports all of its citizens."

The school board only allows public comments during agenda sessions, during which no board actions are taken.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.