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Emails show range of emotions surrounding book controversy

Published November 13, 2012 1:26 pm

Emails to school district • Decision to put it behind the library counter praised, criticized.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some parents and teachers in the Davis School District were appalled that a picture book depicting a family headed by two lesbians was placed behind the counter of an elementary school library in Kaysville earlier this year, seeing the move as a slap in the face to gay and lesbian parents and their children.

Others believe the school made a good decision in requiring Windridge Elementary students to get a permission slip from their parents before checking out In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco, according to correspondence obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a Government Records Access and Management Act request.

With the Davis School District now facing a civil rights lawsuit filed by a parent and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah over the placement of the picture book, emails and letters sent to the district about last summer's flap show mixed reactions to the district's handling of the dispute.

The Anti-Defamation League and anti-censorship groups lobbied the district to rethink the decision. Others wrote to Superintendent Bryan Bowles in praise of a committee's decision to limit access to the book.

Darline Elggren, an librarian at Burton Elementary in Kaysville, said the book shouldn't have been bought for Windridge Elementary.

"I am a member of this community and do not believe that book meets the needs or values of this community. The placement of the book was the perfect answer for all concerned," Elggren wrote in an email to Bowles. "This community that I love and grew up in and know is not about censorship or intolerance. I am sorry the issues became confused ... [I am] a huge fan of Patricia Polacco but do not believe this book should have been purchased to have in an elementary setting in this community."

The Alliance Defense Fund offered its legal services to the district in a letter of support.

The Arizona-based organization cites its mission as "to keep the door open for the spread of the gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family."

"We write in support of the district's common-sense conclusion that parents should decide whether their young children have access to information regarding homosexual conduct and to correct various misrepresentations concerning the law in this area," Jeremy Tedesco, the organization's legal counsel wrote in a June letter to Bowles. "It is our hope that the district will continue to act in the best educational interests of its youngest students and not concede to the ACLU's unreasonable demands."

The district received roughly a dozen emails supporting and opposing the placement of the book, documents show. The names of parents who sent emails were redacted for privacy reasons, said Michelle Beus, the district's legal-issues specialist.

Names of 25 parents who submitted petitions to challenge In Our Mothers' House were also redacted. Beus cited code from the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects student records, including the names of students' parents or other family members.

Petitioners offered a range of reasons for why students shouldn't read the book.

"I don't agree that wholesome, complete parenting can be done by lesbians without a father role. It's not a natural process to have a complete family without a male and female," wrote one petitioner. "This book makes it sound OK and brainwashes very young children when these issues should be decided by parents. It's too controversial of a subject for children under 18 who's [sic] brains are still being developed."

Another petitioner wrote that In Our Mothers' House characterizes neighbors who are judgmental of the family as bad people.

"The entire book promotes homosexuality and makes the reader feel that life inside a homosexual home is great, wonderful and with no problems," wrote the petitioner who wanted the book placed in an 18 and older section. "I believe that the author is wanting us to accept homosexuality as a norm. It is not a norm!"

The mother of the kindergartner who filed the initial complaint with the district wasn't overly critical of the book's content, but wrote that it was too mature for her child to read and she preferred to have discussions about sexuality at home.

"A book that discusses sexuality is best left in a public library, not a school, " the mother wrote. "I felt that it was not an appropriate subject for my child to discuss at this time."

She acknowledged the book's positive aspects.

"I realize that it is trying to teach children to be accepting of all kinds of people and lives," she wrote. "It is good to be kind to all people."

mrogers@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mrogers_trib