School board okays anti-bully book list
The Alameda Board of Education voted to approve the use of 21 new books intended to broaden representation of people of different races and ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations and people with disabilities in the Island’s elementary schools.
The book list was the final piece of a new curriculum intended to better address bullying in schools. The books and lessons that district officials and teachers will develop around them will replace Lesson 9, a series of lessons intended to combat anti-gay bullying that the board decided in May 2009 to add to its existing anti-violence curriculum.
“I think that this list will give the tools to teachers that they have asked for to help our children to be safe and to understand themselves,” said Trustee Tracy Jensen, a vocal supporter of Lesson 9 and the curriculum that has been proposed in its wake.
Board Vice President Mike McMahon, who had voted against Lesson 9, said he was comfortable with the book list because it ensured representation. “That’s why I’m comfortable with this list,” McMahon said before voting for it.
Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said she was concerned that students of different races, ethnicities and nationalities and with disabilities were not adequately represented in the books. She cast the sole vote against putting the books in classrooms.
“We need to seriously address bullying,” Hererra Spencer said.
Parents who had opposed Lesson 9 said they were okay with the books recommended for grades K-2 that would address sexual orientation. But they wanted district officials to reconsider five books addressing sexual orientation and gender in grades 3-5.
“Alameda Concerned Parents supports anti-bullying. But that’s not what this literature list is. This is a political issue,” said Kerry Cook, speaking for the group. “This is not anti-bullying literature. This is homosexual and transgender acceptance training.”
But supporters of the list said the books only promote understanding that different groups of people exist in society. And they said that promoting that understanding will further the schools’ mission of being safe places for children to learn.
“You’re teaching values of humanity and basically self-acceptance. I encourage the board to stand up and show leadership for those values,” said Kenneth Kahn, a longtime substitute teacher in the district.
The school board voted in December 2009 to add new anti-bullying lessons for students in grades 3-5 and a literature guide, and to put together a list of new books to address race, religion and other groups that are to be protected from bullying and harassment as a matter of state law.
The proposed final list includes a book on sexual orientation for each grade. The list includes “The Family Book,” which introduces an array of different types of families that would be taught to kindergartners; “Heather Has Two Mommies,” about a preschooler with two moms who learns about her classmates’ different families, for grade two; and “And Tango Makes Three,” a story about two male penguins raising a baby penguin, for grade three.
The list also includes books that deal with disabilities, religion, gender, race and ethnicity. The list also includes “My Brother Charlie,” a book about a girl and her autistic twin, which would be taught to kindergartners; and “The Golden Rule,” a book about the rule and how it is considered in different religions, for first graders.