How ‘Week of Respect’ drawings turned into a sex ed controversy in Burlington County town

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School poster collage for Week of Respect
Angela Reading saw this poster collage at the school. The lower right hand poster really upset her.

Military official flags NJ mom for criticizing school’s ‘safe space’ posters

A Burlington County, New Jersey school has seen national headlines and military attention after a mother used social media to complain about posters in her child’s elementary school. 

Angela Reading on Facebook
Angela Reading on Facebook

Angela Reading, a mother and member of the Northern Burlington Board of Education, was attending her seven-year-old daughter’s District Family Math Night in late November when she noticed a board of colorful posters. These posters were created by students of Upper Elementary School for a ‘Week of Respect.’ 

“As part of the ‘Week of Respect’, students at our Upper Elementary School (UES) were invited to create a poster that demonstrated that UES was a safe place where everyone was accepted,” Helen E. Payne, the school’s superintendent said in a letter addressed to parents, guardians and staff of the district. “The activity was voluntary and open-ended and has been offered to students for the past three years. There was no instruction associated with it.” 

Students designed their own posters in accordance with the week’s theme. Some students chose to draw images depicting the acceptance of multiple ethnic backgrounds, different languages, such as American Sign Language, and a handful depicted the acceptance of different LGBTQ identities, such as trans, bisexual, pansexual and polysexual. 

The LGBTQ-themed posters were a problem for Reading, and she took to Facebook to air her concerns. 

According to Reading’s Facebook post, which was posted to a local parent group, her daughter asked what the word ‘polysexual’ means after seeing it on one of the posters. “To say the least, I was livid,” Reading wrote in her post. 

“Why are elementary schools promoting/allowing elementary KIDS to research topics of sexuality and create posters,” Reading wrote. “It’s preverse and should be illegal to expose my kids to sexual content.” 

This post went viral, and it caught the attention of a local parent and high-ranking US military official Lt. Col. Christopher Schilling. From his own personal Facebook account, Schilling, who is assigned to nearby Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, commented on the post. 

“The current situation involving Mrs Reading’s actions has caused safety concerns for many families,” Schilling wrote on 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 our entire community.” 

According to various screenshots of the post, Schilling and other Facebook users went back and forth arguing over the situation. In one comment, Schilling shared a link to a petition calling for the resignation of Reading. Commenters also shared a link to a separate petition in support of Reading looking to end cancel culture.

The comments caused a community uproar. People were taking to social media with their opinions, stating Schilling was “targeting,” “harassing,” and “attacking” Reading for her views. Others were calling for the lieutenant to be reprimanded by the military.  

In a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer, a spokesperson for base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst said Schilling’s opinions were unaffiliated with the military. 

“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,” the spokesperson said. 

As the situation intensified, Reading appeared on the popular, conservative-leaning talk show, ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ to discuss the situation. On the show, Reading told Carlson that she thought Schilling’s comments were “really scary” and “mind-boggling.” 

“I was more than surprised. I was scared,” Reading told Carlson. “I actually pulled my kids from school the day I found out. It was mind-boggling and I was worried for them — when the US military comes after you for simply raising concern about a public poster that is widely available for all to see, it’s just mind-boggling.” 

Reading also told Carlson that the admin of the Facebook parent group was contacted by the local police chief, Chief Robert Duff, and was urged to take down the post. The admin reached out to Reading to ask what she wanted to do. 

“I said, ‘I don’t want Homeland Security coming after me. Take the post down. I don’t want to be dealing with this.’ I agreed that the post should come down,” she said in her interview, adding that she later contacted the police chief “and reminded him of the First Amendment.” 

The local blog site Chao and Control, which characterizes themselves as a forum of “educated NJ parents” who can “help with the present crisis of corruption in the administration of public education,” commented on the issue. In a post called “Kiddy Sex Posters in North Hanover Township,” the writer, which goes by the penname ‘MATHGODDESS’ wrote of their disgust with NJ’s school system.  

“There is a push throughout NJ to get young children to be accepting of people ‘who are sexually attracted to multiple genders’ at an age where they can’t even consent to sexual activity,” they wrote. “The purpose of introducing these concepts at an inappropriate age seems at best, reckless, and at worst, nefarious.” 

On the night of Friday, Dec. 9, Reading posted on Facebook, announcing that she and her husband, Bryan Reading, have resigned from the Northern Burlington County Regional School Board. 

“Over the past year, it has become clear to me that board members are not afforded their freedom of speech or the God-given right to have an opinion that may be different from others due to the real and perceived harassment, intimidation, and bullying of a group of small-minded individuals in and around our community,” she wrote in her resignation letter. “It is a tremendous loss to our community that this extremist group intends to eradicate any and all differing opinions in an effort to control the narrative, where politics come before children.” 

It is uncertain as to whether or not the military has taken any action against Lt. Schilling. However, Superintendent Payne said local authorities are monitoring the concerns parents have regarding the situation. 

“I assure you that I have been in continuous close contact with the North Hanover Police and they have been very supportive and present for us,” she said. “They are taking any risks very seriously, are aware of our concerns and have been working on their end to provide any support we need.”