Parent complaints about 'All are Welcome' began in March 2022

2 months ago Fremont Tribune

In response to a public records request by the Fremont Tribune, officials at the Fremont Public Schools (FPS) on Monday, Jan. 23, released a series of emails about the use of “All are Welcome” at Washington Elementary School and its subsequent removal from distribution to students.

The emails include messages from numerous parents to both Washington Elementary School Principal Erica Kobza and FPS Superintendent Mark Shepard, as well as between school district staff, Shepard, the three sets of parents, Kobza, Brad Dahl, the FPS associate superintendent, and Kevin Eairleywine, the district’s executive director of human resources and elementary operations.

“All are Welcome” is a 2018 illustrated book about diverse families written by New York-based author Alexandra Penfold. She also authored the books, “Eat, Sleep, Poop,” and “We are Brothers, We are Friends,” and is a New York Times best-selling children’s books author.

According to a description of the book on, “All are Welcome” is intended for child readers ages 2 to 6 years old and is classified as a, “children’s book on prejudice and racism.” The book depicts diverse families of various racial, ethnic and religious identities as well as families with disabilities. One section features a same-sex parent unit with a child.

The Fremont Tribune received an anonymous tip about the book’s use and subsequent removal from use at Washington Elementary School, leading to the Tribune staff making a public records request to district officials for emails regarding the book.

According to emails provided in response to the public records request, parental objections to the book’s use began on March 14, when a parent identified in documents as “Washington Student Parents No. 2” sent an email to Shepard titled “meeting request.”

In that March 14 email, “Washington Student Parents No. 2” asked Shepard if he could, “discuss some things going on at Washington Elementary?” The parents told Shepard their child had come home with, “a book showing controversial topics that (Kobza) had come to (the student’s) classroom and read, then supposedly sent home with all students.”

“Washington Student Parents No. 2” also stated to Shepard that the incident also, “uncovered a number of other concerning things” at the school.

According the emails, Shepard arranged a meeting with that parent the following day, March 15, 2022.

On March 21, 2022, another parent identified only as “Washington Student Parent No. 1” emailed Kobza to “express serious concern” over the distribution of the book “All are Welcome” at Washington Elementary School, noting that the book was given to students “right before spring break without any prior notification to parents.”

In that email, “Washington Student Parent No. 1” stated to Kobza, “I was not prepared for conversations that the book would bring up and want the opportunity as a parent to decide when and how to talk through each of the social topics represented by pictures in the book.”

“Washington Student Parent No. 1” also wrote that the person agreed with the message of “All are Welcome” and teaching “kindness in differences is a value we want to teach our children.” The parent’s objections centered on illustrated pictures in the book which, “lumped conversations about religion, disabilities, race, family structures and sexual identities all together.”

“These conversations are big deals,” “Washington Student Parent No. 1” wrote, noting that their family had started those conversations, but were not prepared to have all of them be discussed.

The parent then stated their desire was to have Kobza give notification before sending out future educational material not, “directly related to math, science or language arts,” and when those materials included topics of, “health, hygiene, social constructs, family make up, gender, disabilities, social norms, religion, sexual identity and so forth.”

In response to the parent’s email, Kobza wrote back on the same day, telling the parent, “I am continually striving to create a school culture where communication between school and home is safe and effective.”

“The intent behind the book was never to bring attention to any type of social situation that may cause discomfort within a family. The intention was simply to communicate a message of inclusivity so all of our students feel that they belong,” Kobza wrote to the parent. “Regardless of what any students’ life may look like outside of our school, we want all of our students to know they are all welcome here. In the future, I will be sure to keep these types of concerns in mind.”

On the following day, March 22, 2022, the same parent emailed Shepard to express their concerns about the book’s use without prior parental notification.

Under FPS district policy, parents of students are notified and allowed to review all material used in health and hygiene – also known as sexual or puberty education – classes in the event a parent objects to the lessons and wants to remove their child from the classes in question.

In his response to “Washington Student Parent No. 1,” Shepard wrote that he had already been contacted by a second parent with “similar concern.”

“We strive to provide parental notification whenever appropriate and will continue to message our building leaders of the importance of this communication,” Shepard wrote to the parent. “As you have noted in your email to Ms. Kobza, whenever sensitive topics are being introduced/discussed, parents are typically given the opportunity to ask questions and/or opt their student out.”

By April 23, 2022, “Washington Student Parents No. 2” contacted Shepard again about the book, telling the superintendent that during a visit to Washington Elementary School, the parent had discovered a copy of “All are Welcome,” “on a table in the front office” accompanied with a frowning emoji after the parent’s message.

“Since the book was there, I am assuming that the school’s stance on this situation is that it is acceptable,” “Washington Student Parent No. 2” wrote on April 23. “Please confirm the school’s stance on this.”

On April 24, Shepard forwarded the emails from “Washington Student Parent No. 2” to Earlywine saying, “Let’s talk about this before I respond.”

On Monday, April 25, 2022, Shepard wrote an email to Eairleywine, explaining that he had visited Washington Elementary School on April 24, to, “see what the parents’ concern was. The book, “All are Welcome,” is on a table in the waiting area in the office.”

“When I met with the parents, they were reasonable. At that time, they shared they were concerned with the way it was presented, the build-up and the way it was promoted than the actual content. They did voice a concern of the age appropriateness of the content, the word ‘doctrination’ was brought up more than once in my conversation with them” Shepard wrote to Eairleywine and Dahl.

“Can you talk with Erica (Kobza) this morning (April 25) about this and identify a plan moving forward? Reaching out to parents for a further conversation certainly needs to be a part of it. Obviously, we have a policy for reviewing books – not sure how it applies when the book has been promoted and handed out to every student,” Shepard continued. “You and I had a conversation on Friday (April 22) where you voiced a concern about school boards and what may be limited to be taught in the future. I think the more we move outside our lane, the likelihood of that happening increases.”

Eairleywine replied to Shepard later on April 25, cc’ing Brad Dahl, the FPS associate superintendent, detailing his meeting with a third set of parents, identified as “Washington Student Parents No. 3.”

“I spoke with Erica after the meeting about the book. She took it out of the office and said it is not anywhere else in the building unless a teacher has it in their classroom,” Eairleywine wrote to Shepard and Dahl. “I told her to think through a plan to addressing this and other parent concerns about the book. (Kobza) suggested telling teachers the book should not be out for kids. I told her to put something together first for us to consider.”

According to the documents provided by district officials, the issues surrounding book’s use stopped until August, when on Aug. 12, “Washington Student Parents No. 2,” wrote an email to Eairleywine telling him that “All are Welcome” was on display at a back-to-school event.

“I wanted to mention this right away to ideally ‘nip it in the bud,’ to say. The book we brought to your and Mark’s attention last year was on display again last night (Aug. 11) at a back-to-school night,” the parents wrote. “It was one of four books showcased in (their child’s) classroom. I can only assume this means the direction is coming from the top down within (Washington Elementary School).”

The parents continued their complaints about the book, stating they wanted assurances from district administrators that district policies were uniformly applied in all schools.

“Specific agendas on gender identity, family make-up, etc., do not need to be pushed on our elementary students,” the parents wrote. “The book happens to be one thing we can specifically see and point to. It raises the overall concern of trust.”

Eairleywine responded to “Washington Students Parents No. 2” by telling them he’d contacted Kobza, and the principal was “completely unaware of the book being showcased or featured in any way.”

“(Kobza) told me that she will deal with it immediately with the teacher and will also check with all of the other classrooms,” Eairleywine added.

Eairleywine then forwarded the emails to Shepard with a short note, “FYI.”

Within hours of Eairleywine’s correspondence with the concerned parents, Kobza sent a mass email to the entire staff of Washington Elementary School using the district’s email system with a photograph of the cover of “All are Welcome” and a message to, “please read immediately.”

In her email to the school’s staff, Kobza ordered teachers to return all copies to her.

“If you have this book anywhere in your classroom, I need you to bring it to my office immediately, per (Eairleywine),” she wrote to school teachers. “Please and thank you. Just set it on my desk. And put a sticky note on it with your name so I know I got it. If you were here last year, you may have (the book) here unless you took it home. If you took it home, that is OK, but please keep it there.”

Kobza then emailed Eairleywine to tell him she believed she had all copies, a message Eairleywine then sent to Shepard on April 12.

“The teachers brought all their copies to my office if they had one,” Kobza told Eairleywine. “I believe I have all of them. Will do a sweep to be sure.”

According to Shepard, the book is no longer in use in any Fremont Public Schools location or school, although he said he has a copy of the book in district offices that can be reviewed by anyone who inquires about it.

Shepard stressed in an email to the Fremont Tribune on Jan. 23, 2023, that the removal of the book from use or distribution was not related to its content.

“In both situations, the book was not removed for content, but rather for the potential of creating a disruption to the educational process,” Shepard stated in a Jan. 23 email.

Shepard said the book was purchased from, “First Book, a 501c3 non-profit, whose mission is ‘Building a path out of poverty through educational equity.’” On the non-profit’s website, the organization describes its mission as: “Our purpose is as bold as it is urgent. To create systemic change. To ensure equal access to quality education. To empower every educator and all the children in need who they serve.”

“Ms. Kobza has stated that her intent was to continue to create an inclusive environment at Washington and to further celebrate the diversity of the students and families present in the school,” Shepard stated.











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