‘Woke military’ and ‘kiddy sex posters’ — Culture war battle at NJ elementary school
A parent's complaint about student artwork for anti-bullying week at an elementary school in North Hanover Township has blown into a controversy that's sucked the military into the nation's culture wars.
Fueling the fire was inflammatory and inaccurate language used by a New Jersey blog describing the student work as "kiddie sex posters," giving the impression that it was graphic or even illegal.
In fact, most of the artwork supported people being kind to one another. But one of the student posters included drawings of pride flags labeled as “pansexual,” “polysexual”, “transgender,” “agender,” “lesbian,” “non binary” and “gender queer.”
Angela Reading — who is a member of the North Burlington Regional school board and whose husband is president of the North Hanover Township school board — now says that she is being threatened by the military because an official with the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, whose families send their children to the North Hanover school, acknowledged safety concerns with images of the children's work going viral.
The opinions expressed were posted from a personal account, unaffiliated with the military, and were not official statements made on behalf of the Department of Defense, according to a Joint Base public affairs spokesperson.
What was the student artwork displayed at the North Hanover school?
Out of more than 60 hand-drawn signs on the wall of Upper Elementary School, several involved rainbow flag designs. Many of the posters used messaging about all being "welcome here.” A handful of signs had hand-drawn LGBTQ pride flags.
The student work at the school for grades 4-6 was displayed during the state-designated Week of Respect, which is aimed at anti-bullying and promoting safe spaces for all.
Under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, the week beginning with the first Monday in October of each year is designated as the Week of Respect in statewide schools.
Parent takes issue
Angela Reading noticed the artwork when she attended a “Math Night” at the school with her 7-year-old, who she said asked what "polysexual" meant after reading it on the poster.
She posted a close-up photo of one student’s artwork on a public Facebook group with her criticism, questioning how 4th through 6th graders would know how to spell such words and design the flags of LGBTQ awareness without specific instruction.
'Kiddy Sex' inflammatory language
The incident was then highlighted by the site Chaos and Control with a post titled “Kiddy Sex Posters.” The blogger “Mathgoddess" called the lesson "an introduction [to] types of sex preferences, which shouldn’t really make any child or parent feel safe.”
The article was shared on the group’s Facebook page, where the project was inaccurately described as "kids as young as 9" creating "posters about different types of people one can have sex with displayed in the hallway with no way to opt out."
Is the military threatening Angela Reading for her opinions?
After some parents raised concerns about the students' work and identities getting shared far and wide online, a member of the Joint Base acknowledged those worries.
“The current situation involving Mrs. Reading’s actions has caused safety concerns for many families," Lt. Chris Schilling posted to Facebook. "The Joint Base leadership takes this situation very seriously and from the beginning have had the security forces working with multiple state and local law enforcement agencies to monitor the situation to ensure the continued safety of the entire community.”
The Chaos and Control blog reacted by describing the situation as “Woke NJ Military Goes after Local Mom.”
The same day, Angela Reading made an appearance on Fox News Channel with Tucker Carlson. She said she had been harassed and threatened — including by military members — for criticizing the use of pride flags and LGBTQ terms on students’ anti-bullying posters.
In a written statement issued to New Jersey 101.5, a Joint Base spokesperson said "Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is aware of the recent social media exchange involving a Soldier stationed at JB MDL. The base has no role in investigating this situation and any information or concerns received from the public were passed onto the local civilian law enforcement responsible for jurisdiction."
Petition calls for mom to resign
An online petition is now calling for Reading to step down from her position on the regional school board.
“Her post incorrectly conflated sexuality and gender-identity with sexual activity, twisting the benign assignment of inclusion into a ‘perverse’ claim of exposing children to sexual content,” the petition says.
A counter online petition, “Support of Northern Burlington BOE member Angela Reading” shows screenshots of Reading’s full Facebook post, defending her criticism of the student use of LGBTQ flags and words.
“I don’t care what anybody does in their personal life," Reading said in the social media post referenced in the petition. "I don’t care who you marry or who you love. I have instilled in my children a respect for differences without having to talk about sex, it’s possible."
Reading argues that her "kids are not on social media. And kids are only talking about it on the playground because it's being forced on them by teachers, at home and by unsupervised social media time."
Schools superintendent defends project
In a letter to the community, North Hanover Schools Superintendent Helen Payne acknowledged the heated discourse.
She said that the students’ hand-drawn posters were their own personal views.
“These specific terms from the posters are not part of our curriculum," her letter says. "However, students are continuously exposed to information in their lives beyond what they learn in our schools. These student-created posters represent information that is important to these students, are used in a way that is supportive and kind, and as such represent protected speech under the First Amendment."
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the author of the Chaos and Control blog post.
Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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