Winnie the Pooh gun violence guide sparks outrage in US

Dallas Independent School District issued a statement explaining why students received the controversial book.

Rows of people holding candles join for a memorial of the lives lost at a Uvalde elementary school.
Community members in Uvalde, Texas, gather for the one-year anniversary of a mass shooting at a local elementary school on Wednesday [File: Eric Gay/AP Photo]

Cindy Campos’s five-year-old son was so excited about the Winnie the Pooh book he got at school that he asked her to read it with him as soon as he got home.

But her heart sank when she realised it was a tutorial about what to do when “danger is near”, advising kids to lock the doors, turn off the lights and quietly hide.

As they read the Stay Safe book together, Campos began crying, leaving her son confused. His United States school had sent the text home with students without explanation or warning to parents.

Cindy Campos reads the book "Stay Safe" to her son in Dallas. She is on the couch, wearing glasses and holding the book up. The book is red and has a yellow Winnie the Pooh on the cover with the word STAY SAFE in playful text at the top. Cindy has her arm around her son who is lying back against a pale red cushion and has his legs across his mum's lap.
Cindy Campos was upset to discover her son had been sent home with a guide to surviving gun violence, themed around the children’s book character Winnie the Pooh [Cindy Campos/AP Photo]

“It’s hard because you’re reading them a bedtime story and basically now you have to explain in this cute way what the book is about, when it’s not exactly cute,” Campos said.

She said her first-grader, who goes to the same Dallas, Texas, elementary school as her pre-kindergarten son, also got a copy of the book last week. After posting about it in an online neighbourhood group, she found other concerned parents whose kids had also brought the book home.

The Dallas Independent School District’s decision to send kids home with the book has made waves. California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted: “Winnie the Pooh is now teaching Texas kids about active shooters because the elected officials do not have the courage to keep our kids safe and pass common sense gun safety laws.”

It sparked enough of a reaction to warrant an explanation from the district, which said in a statement on Friday that it works “hard every day to prevent school shootings” by dealing with online threats and improving security measures. It also conducts active shooter drills.

“Recently a booklet was sent home so parents could discuss with their children how to stay safe in such cases,” the district said. “Unfortunately, we did not provide parents any guide or context. We apologize for the confusion and are thankful to parents who reached out to assist us in being better partners.”

The statement did not say how many schools and grades in the district received the books.

Campos said the book was “haunting” and that it seemed especially “tone deaf” to send it home around the time the state was marking the anniversary of last year’s mass shooting in Uvalde, when a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school.

It also comes as Texas’s Republican-controlled legislature wraps up a session in which it rejected virtually all proposals to tighten gun laws. It did pass legislation banning school libraries from having books that contain descriptions, illustrations or audio depicting sexual conduct not relevant to the required school curriculum.

Active shooter drills have become common in US schools, though there is disagreement over whether they do more harm than good.

Campos said that, although she does not disagree with the book’s intent, she wished it would have come with a warning to parents so she could introduce it to her kids at the right time and in the right way. She said she has discussed school shootings with her kids and that she might have chosen to wait to read them the book until there was another attack.

“I would have done it on my own time,” said Campos, who first spoke to the Oak Cliff Advocate.

The book’s cover says: “If there is danger, let Winnie the Pooh and his crew show you what to do.” Inside, it includes passages such as, “If danger is near, do not fear. Hide like Pooh does until the police appear. Doors should be locked and the passage blocked. Turn off the light to stay out of sight.”

The book was published by Praetorian Consulting, a Houston-based firm that provides safety, security and crisis management training and services.

The company, which did not respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment, says on its website that it uses age-appropriate material to teach the concepts of “run, hide, fight” – the approach authorities say civilians should take in active shooter situations.

The company also says on its website that its K-6 (five to 12-year-olds) curriculum features the characters of Winnie the Pooh, which are now in the public domain and even featured in a recent horror movie.

Source: The Associated Press