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Rising political tensions in Fallbrook School District

Pendleton parent urges parental involvement in school board debates after concern over gender-expansive book

Avalon Hester

Village News intern

Across the country, school districts have become a heated battle ground for rising political tensions. National debates about book bans, LGBTQ rights and representation, and other issues are being taken into school board meetings around the U.S., and Fallbrook is no exception.

A Camp Pendleton resident and father with children attending San Onofre Elementary got involved with the Fallbrook Unified Elementary School District school board when his third grader’s teacher read the class an illustrated children’s book about gender expression outside the gender binary.

The book, “My Shadow is Purple,” is a rhyming illustrated book about a child who feels different because their shadow is neither blue, like their dad’s, or pink, like their mom’s, but purple. The colors of the shadows are intended to represent the gender binary and the stereotypes applied to both genders within that binary. The child in the story expresses their confusion, “Some tell me I’m blue, because ‘Only blue can be strong,’ but my mom is strong too, so I think that they’re wrong. Some tell me I’m pink because ‘Pink’s the most caring,’ but my dad’s always crying, and loving, and sharing.” The child asks, “Why can’t I love sport, and dancing, and trains, and ponies, and glitter, and engines, and planes?”

The book culminates in a school dance, where the child, who attends in a skirt made by their mom and a suit made by their dad, feels forced to leave after the dance floor is split into pink and blue shadows. This prompts other children at the dance to come forward and say “My shadow’s yellow, which, to me, feels like love!” or “My shadow’s as brown as a grizzly bear.” Finally, every child professes a different colored shadow, “My shadow is red, mine’s silver, mine’s green, mine’s violet, mine’s orange, mine’s aquamarine.” The last line reads, “Whatever your color, start dancing, have fun!”

To this San Onofre Elementary father, this book and its message were inappropriate for his third grader. He told the school board at the most recent meeting Sept. 17, “We hope that when our kids go to school they learn math and ELA (English Language Arts), the other stuff is up to me as a father to teach.”

“My Shadow is Purple” is not new to this kind of controversy. In defense of a teacher in Georgia, who faced termination after reading the book to her elementary school class, Scott Stuart, the author of the book said, “It’s a book of acceptance and inclusion,” and added “we need to be supporting teachers, not vilifying them.”

The teacher who read the book to their third grade class at San Onofre was placed under investigation, and the parent who reported the incident was told they were placed on paid leave. However, while he was reviewing the Routine Personal documents for the school, he found that the teacher in question was being given a special assignment at a STEM investigations lab. Prior to this discovery, he said he was not updated on the status of the investigation.

“All children should respect each other, they come to school to learn,” said the father, “but I do not need teachers taking liberties outside of the curriculum and without their principal’s approval, to read things that are contrary to my beliefs on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.”

This conflict was the catalyst for this Camp Pendleton parent’s increased involvement in his children’s education, pushing him to use his voice and regularly attend local school board meetings, something he urges other parents to do as well.

His frustrations were driven by concerns over lack of agency in how FUESD board members are selected, especially since military members on Camp Pendleton cannot vote in local elections without declaring California as their official residence – something that many military members aren’t able or willing to do considering their frequent moves. This Camp Pendleton father urged other military parents to “get involved and advocate for their children,” given that some elected school board members run unopposed, “They just show up. No real action, no real results.”

He addressed the school board at the most recent meeting with the goal of redirecting focus towards improving test scores in the FUESD to be more competitive with state averages. According to the FUESD Local Control and Accountability Plan, “Spring 2022 CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) proficiency in ELA was 50% for all students and 34% for all students in Math.”

Upcoming school board meetings can be found online at http://www.FUESD.com under the Board Meetings tab, and the next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 7. Parents can also join the meetings remotely through a link on the website. Recent agenda items discussed at school board meetings included the Local Control and Accountability Plan, a budgetary plan that prioritizes parent and community input, contract agreements for high level administrative employees, reports from the Interim Superintendent and other important issues.

 

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