In the heart of Dallas, a moment of joy morphed into a lesson of anxiety for Cindy Campos’ 5-year-old son, whose jubilation at receiving a Winnie the Pooh book from his school swiftly turned into disappointment upon discovering that the beloved storybook characters were offering him instructions on reacting to imminent danger.
The book, a cryptic guide advising children to seal the doors, extinguish the lights, and hush into silence, left the young reader crestfallen. Campos was brought to tears while navigating the pages of the “Stay Safe” guidebook, an unanticipated souvenir from the school, handed out without any preamble or explanatory notes for parents.
The poignancy of this situation underscored Campos’ dilemma of explaining the disquieting content behind a deceptively charming cover. The same guide was also received by her first grader, in addition to her preschooler. This stirred an online discussion amongst similarly concerned parents whose children were also recipients of this unnerving guidebook.
The unorthodox measure of the Dallas Independent School District to distribute such guides amongst their students sparked controversy. The poignant situation even attracted a reaction from California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who lamented on social media that Winnie the Pooh is teaching Texas kids about active shooters, implying the perceived failure of elected officials to enforce adequate gun safety laws.
The outcry elicited a response from the school district, which offered a justification for their safety-enhancing endeavors. The district’s statement underlined their commitment to daily prevention efforts against school shootings, including addressing online threats and amplifying safety measures, along with conducting active shooter drills.
In a candid admission, the district regretted the lack of guidance and context in its distribution of the booklets. They apologized for the confusion created, and expressed gratitude to parents who have engaged in a constructive dialogue to improve the partnership.
Despite this, the district refrained from disclosing the exact number of schools and classrooms where the guidebooks were circulated.
For Campos, the content of the book lingered with a haunting presence. She found it jarring that the guide was handed out during the somber anniversary of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, in which 19 children and two educators lost their lives. This coincides with a legislative session where the Republican-dominated Texas legislature dismissed most suggestions for stricter gun laws, yet approved legislation prohibiting school libraries from possessing books describing sexual behavior not relevant to the mandatory school syllabus.
The prevalence of active shooter drills in American schools is a contentious topic, and Campos’ experience adds to the debate. While she did not denounce the book’s intent, she expressed her wish for a parental advisory. This would allow parents the discretion to introduce the topic to their children at an appropriate juncture, in a sensitive manner.
The book, published by Houston-based Praetorian Consulting, features notable directives such as “If danger is near, fear not. Hide as Pooh does until the police appear. The doors should be locked and the passage blocked. Turn off the light so you won’t be seen.” Praetorian Consulting provides training and services in safety, security, and crisis management. They advocate the “run, hide, fight” strategy for civilians in active shooter situations, utilizing age-appropriate material.
Despite the controversy, the company’s K-6 curriculum continues to feature public domain characters like Winnie the Pooh, even as they recently found themselves starring in a horror film. Praetorian Consulting, however, has yet to respond to requests for comment regarding the controversial guidebook.