Officials at Cambridge Public Schools are distancing the district from a letter penned by a school librarian rejecting books donated by first lady Melania Trump.
In the blog post, published Tuesday on the Horn Book, Liz Phipps Soeiro, a library media specialist at the district’s Cambridgeport School, began by thanking the first lady for the 10 Dr. Seuss books sent to her school “for its high standards of excellence.” But she went on to explain why they would not be keeping the gifted titles.
“Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatization, and school ‘choice’ with no interest in outcomes of children, their families, their teachers, and their schools,” she wrote. “Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control? Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos?”
The school district said in a statement Thursday that while it supports its employees right to voice their personal opinions, Phipps Soeiro’s letter wasn’t an official school position.
“The opinions expressed in the Horn Book editorial were those of the writer, and not a statement on behalf of Cambridge Public Schools,” the district said. “This was not a formal acceptance or rejection of donated books, but a statement of opinion on the meaning of the donation.”
In the post, the elementary school librarian also called the choice of Dr. Seuss a “tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature,” adding that the author’s illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”
Accompanying her letter, Phipps Soeiro, who founded the Cambridge Book Bike, suggested 10 other titles for the first lady, covering the subjects of immigration, children standing up to racism, and “children who challenge society’s social constraints.”
“You and your husband have a direct impact on these children’s lives,” she wrote. “Please make time to learn about and value them.”
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told The Washington Post the gifted books were part of the first lady’s efforts to “to help as many children as she can.”
“Turning the gesture of sending young school children books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the First Lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere,” she said.
The school said it has “counseled” Phipps Soeiro on “all relevant policies, including donations policies and the policy against public resources being used for political purposes.”
“While we enthusiastically support the political engagement and passion of our employees, in this instance the editorial posted online gave the impression that the statement reflected the position or actions of the Cambridge Public Schools,” the district said. “Our school district did not authorize any such statement.”
While many of the comments on the blog post commended Phipps Soeiro, others condemned her as “ungrateful” and called on her to keep her politics to herself. Parents outside the school Wednesday told CBS Boston they supported the librarian.
“I think the letter is really articulate, constructive in its suggestions,” parent Alex Vanpraagh told the station.
Rosalie Rippey, a spokeswoman for Cambridge Public Schools, said the district has received “a lot” of phone calls and emails at both the district and school level from “people who feel strongly, in one way or another, offended” by the letter.
The tenor of the communications follow the tone in the article’s comments, she said.
A Twitter account belonging to Phipps Soeiro appeared to have been deleted Thursday. When reached for comment, the librarian directed Boston.com to the school’s statement.
Rippey said there hasn’t been anything threatening expressed to the school, but said the flood of calls has made it challenging to keep the phone lines open for district families.