Several parents and a Wake County school board member came to the defense Tuesday night of a preschool teacher who resigned after being criticized for using LGBTQ-themed flash cards in her classroom.
Some Republican legislators and conservatives have accused the preschool teacher, who was not identified by the district, of not using age-appropriate materials.
But multiple speakers at Tuesday’s school board meeting said Wake didn’t do enough to support the teacher from the criticism she received.
“Don’t reflexively cater to witch hunts like the one at Ballentine Elementary School,” said Jimmy Ryals, a Raleigh parent of elementary students. “Give the kids what they deserve.”
The issue came to light on May 27 when N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore issued a news release saying Rep. Erin Paré was contacted by a constituent that the flash cards were being used to teach colors to children in a preschool class at Ballentine, which is in Fuquay-Varina.
Both Republican lawmakers focused on one flash card, saying it showed a pregnant man. The flash card shows a drawing of a pregnant person with short hair.
Paré contacted the principal, who had the flash cards removed. In a statement, the school system said the principal did not know the cards were being used.
Wake, which is North Carolina’s largest school district, also said the flash cards were not part of an approved pre-kindergarten curriculum and called them an “inappropriate instructional resource found in a preschool classroom.”
The story generated national headlines, with Paré being interviewed on Fox News.
Multiple conservative websites have called the incident an example of teachers trying to indoctrinate students.
The state House could take action as soon as this week on legislation passed by Senate Republicans that says that sexual orientation or gender identity can’t be taught in K-3 classrooms. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has said he’ll veto the bill.
Teacher was ‘bullied and harassed’
School board member Jim Martin distanced himself from the district, saying Tuesday there was nothing inappropriate about the flash cards. While they weren’t part of the curriculum, Martin said they helped promote diverse families.
Martin faulted the lawmakers for making this a national political issue. He said the community needs to “stand up to bullies and not let bullies drive good teachers out of the classroom.”
“This was a highly regarded teacher who got bullied and harassed over flash cards?” said Martin, who is not running for re-election this year. “If your life and existence are so fragile that flash cards are going to somehow socially engineer a child, I’m sorry.
“What we did is we made it more likely for people to leave the classroom.”
‘We were failed’
Lana Witt, a frequent critic of the school board, questioned during public comment whether the district was catering to the interests of LGBTQ families over those of “traditional” families such as her own.
“What’s happened to majority rule and minority rights, which includes even families who sense a lack of recognition and respect for traditional male and female roles and the idea of an age of innocence?” Witt said. “Inclusion and promotion for the sake of exploiting and benefiting some while excluding others are not the same.”
But everyone else who provided written and verbal comments on the issue Tuesday spoke in defense of the use of the flash cards.
“The flash cards used by a teacher at Ballentine Elementary were in no way ‘inappropriate,’ and merely showed an example of a slightly ‘different-from-the-norm’ type of family,” wrote Dennis Parrish, a Wake County educator and parent of two elementary students. “And thus, the confiscation of those cards and subsequent resignation of that educator are very troubling.”
Jackie Milazzo, a parent of a student in the special education preschool class at Ballentine, said the school and the district gave into homophobia.
“We were failed when the school system showed a lack of public support for our preschool teacher when this issue made national news, all of which ultimately led to our incredible preschool teacher resigning and not ending the school year with our children,” Milazzo told the board.
Jenée Mobley, a parent of two older Ballentine students, told the board that the school has lost a beloved teacher.
“We should be celebrating this Pre-K teacher who has been praised by the actual parents in this classroom for the incredible work that she has done to help their kids thrive, many with special needs,” Mobley said. “Instead this teacher felt forced to resign, with our kids the ultimate victims.
Some speakers said they’re worried that the incident could cause teachers to be silent on LGBTQ issues.
Elle Prince, the parent of queer and transgender students at Enloe High School in Raleigh, said the teacher was the victim of backlash for doing her job in an inclusive manner with inclusive educational material.
“Many are concerned about the chilling effect that this has had and will continue to have on Wake County Public School System employees who wish to be inclusive and supportive,” Prince told the board.
Milazzo said the incident is the wrong message to send at a time when Wake is facing a teacher shortage.
“Who would want to work in a school system where any parental complaint — warranted or not — will have the school system bending over backwards to appease them for fear of negative publicity?” Milazzo said.
This story was originally published June 7, 2022 9:51 PM.