Over the past year, I have raised concerns about age-inappropriate materials, made available for children to access and being used in the classroom, without proper parental notification, or, in some instances no parental notification at all. As President of No Left Turn in Education (NLTE) – Wisconsin, I voiced my concerns, often on behalf of district parents, in writing to school boards, in public forums and in testimony before the Wisconsin legislature. I hosted educational seminars, parent empowerment rallies, and worked tirelessly to do my part getting parent/taxpayer representatives elected to school board seats across Waukesha County.
This included looking within my own district where my 2 younger children have previously been enrolled. When news of the graphic, age-inappropriate sexual education books available to students was reported by the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty (WILL) I reviewed the SORA app on my then 10-year-old son’s District issued Chromebook; I found several disturbing books available to students without any parental or teacher oversight. Among the most egregious I discovered Gender Quest Workbook, It’s Perfectly Normal, and Queer as available books for my not yet 5th grade son. It is unconscionable that these books are available to our minor children without parental consent, at times, not even knowledge of the book’s online availability.
I was not the only parent concerned about these textbooks. Parents in multiple districts attended school board meetings and read aloud from these books, Oconomowoc parents had planned on it as well, but the board President announced in August 2021 that the district was working on removal of these books, parents and taxpayers were asked for patience.
In September 2021, hoping that this issue was properly addressed, I asked for a list of library books available to students in the District. I received an incomplete list of the library books; the list did not include any books accessible on student ChromeBooks nor textbooks used by the teachers. And for the following several months, I began to hear from many district parents raising new and growing concerns about the material being used in their children’s classrooms.
In February 2022, I was contacted by a parent and student regarding the use of the book The 57 Bus in an eighth-grade classroom. I was informed by the student that the teacher had read parts of the book aloud to the class, including discussions on terms for gender and sex. This parent and student expressed immense discomfort with the use of this book.
I had hoped the district had addressed these issues, so I contacted the district to inquire. On February 21, 2022, the principal of the school replied to my email questioning the use of this book. In his response the use of the bookwas referred to as a “mentor text” used for discussion in the classroom. The principal also stated that parents were provided notice about “the use of the text” as part of teachers’ “weekly communications to families.”
But, I was not satisfied with this response. Discussing the response with the parents that stepped forward, we agreed that the weekly communication to families did not provide adequate notice to parents about the nature of the book. It did not provide any warning to parents that the material planned for the “read aloud” may be inappropriate. The parents I discussed this book with expressed concern about the use of this book. Based on the parentalsurprise and concern conveyed to me, along with the screenshot of the weekly communication provided to parents, I found the notice to parents to be inadequate.
In addition to contacting the principal of the school, and prior to any public testimony, I contacted the school board and received a response that I directly quoted in my testimony at a State Senate Committee on Education hearing. In my written testimony, which I also read aloud to the committee, I quoted the statements verbatim. None of my statements were personal attacks. I acted with respect and prudence by quoting statements that in their entirety so that nothing could possibly be taken out of context.
Over the last several months, I had been a resource for many families who felt that they could not speak out. Quite frankly, they are intimidated and perhaps, rightly so. For instance, the baseless accusation made against me negates the fact that I fairly articulated the school board’s opinion just as it was explained to me via email. I am free under the First Amendment to discuss my experiences with elected officials and to publicly disagree with and criticize them. But most importantly, the education of our children will only improve if all voices are heard and welcomed.