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Ivey: Pre-K secretary dismissed due to “distractions” of “different lifestyles, equity”

“It was just the right thing to do,” Ivey said.

Gov. Kay Ivey delivers the 2023 State of the State address. Hal Yeager/Governor's Office
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Gov. Kay Ivey was asked Thursday why she dismissed Barbara Cooper, secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Education, last week over concerns about a teacher resource book.

“It was just the right thing to do,” Ivey said.

The resource book in question is the fourth edition of “Developmentally Appropriate Practices” by the National Association of the Education of Young Children. Cooper became an at-large board member with NAEYC in mid-2022.

Ivey said the problem with the book is that it included “distracting” concepts.

“We need to focus on the basics, y’all, the absolute basics of education,” Ivey said. “We’ve got to get this right. Math, reading—the basics.”

AL.com reporter Mike Cason asked Ivey what her indication was that Cooper was “no longer focused on the basics.”

“The teacher resource book that I looked at, and all those references to different kinds of lifestyles and equity and this, that and whatever—that’s not teaching English, that’s not teaching writing, that’s not teaching reading,” Ivey said. “We need to focus on the basics and we’re going to get this right.”

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AL.com’s Rebecca Griesbach reported Thursday that in addition to the forced resignation of Cooper, the state has now also slashed the term “equity” from early learning and development standards, from 65 instances of the term to just five.

In the initial Friday statement, the governor’s office said the book “invokes ideas for teachers that there are ‘larger systemic forces that perpetuate systems of White privilege’ or that ‘the United States is built on systemic and structural racism.’ Also included for 4-year-olds to learn is that ‘LGBTQIA+ need to hear and see messages that promote equality, dignity and worth.’”

Ivey said the change doesn’t indicate that any children are meant to feel unwelcome in Alabama classrooms.

“We want all children to feel welcome in the classroom but we’re going to focus on the basics of education,” Ivey said.

Ivey reiterated Thursday that she and Cooper came to a “mutual decision” about her resignation, but also said the governor has the authority to hire and fire any staff member. The initial statement from Ivey’s office Friday said Cooper resigned after Ivey chose to go in a different direction in the leadership of the state’s acclaimed preschool program.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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