"Jacob's New Dress"

The cover of the children's book, "Jacob's New Dress."

Some residents are asking Lampeter-Strasburg school leaders to explain why a children's book about a boy who wears a dress was read to a kindergarten class without parents being alerted.

"The overriding issue for me is parent notification," said Timothy White, the father of a kindergarten student who is in a different Lampeter Elementary School class than the one where the book was read.

The kindergarten teacher on Dec. 22 sent a note home to parents after a guidance counselor read the book, "Jacob's New Dress," to her students.

"This is a story of a boy who feels most comfortable wearing dresses and other clothes that are ordinarily thought of to be just for girls," the teacher wrote to parents.

In her one-page note, the teacher said the book emphasizes the need to be kind to people, and what people wear is not important. It raises issues of bullying. She invited parents with questions to contact her or the counselor.

Six residents addressed the school board on Jan. 5 about parent notification concerns. About 30 residents attended the meeting.

Kevin Peart, L-S superintendent, in an interview said the board will discuss parental notification at a workshop meeting, possibly Feb. 17.

Peart said no parent of a student in the classroom where the book was read spoke at the board meeting. He declined to say whether parents of students in the class were satisfied with how the teacher handled the issue.

"I think our staff did a very caring and nurturing job with sensitivity," Peart said.

He said the book is not part of the district's curriculum, and he had no knowledge of the book being read to an L-S class before.

"It was never about proselytizing or promoting a lifestyle we recognize the community is uncomfortable with," Peart said. "The fact is that the book was read to a specific class to address a specific need of a specific student identified by our staff and parents."

He said student privacy rights preclude him from offering additional information.

Reaction

White, who has three sons in L-S schools, ages 12, 8 and 6, said not informing parents before the book was read was "a breach of trust."

He said he asked the board to restore trust and "do the right thing in the future."

Pastor Jamie Mitchell of Harvest Bible Chapel said he alerted families in his congregation about the issue in a Jan. 2 email. He said a family associated with his church has a child in the class where the book was read and was troubled.

Mitchell said he called Peart and learned "they had considered contacting parents but knew that many would remove their kids."

In his email to church members, Mitchell added, "Therefore, they believed they knew better what these children needed."

"I am not sure if (Peart) fully recognizes that they have done something very wrong," Mitchell wrote.

"Apology needed"

In his email, Mitchell said he researched the book online and "was shocked to learn that most gay activists highly laud this book."

"I am not suggesting that any of the school officials are pushing the gay agenda," he wrote, "yet their actions give the appearance that they are."

"The district needs to apologize, take responsibility and then publicly promise never to introduce this kind of material with this kind of agenda to our children," the pastor wrote.

In an interview Friday, Mitchell did not address concerns about the book's content. He stressed only that the school erred in not notifying parents before it was read to children.

"It's not about that book. It's not about a little boy wearing a dress. And it's not about banning books being read," Mitchell said Friday. "I just want the opportunity to know the book is being read. ... I don't want to be surprised as a parent."

He said he hopes the school board concludes someone made a mistake.

Correspondent K. Scott Kreider contributed to this story.

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