Gov. Kay Ivey’s dismissal of Early Childhood Education secretary brings criticism

By: - April 25, 2023 6:59 am
Gov. Kay Ivey with hand over her heart

Gov. Kay Ivey stands at attention during the National Anthem prior to the State of the State address on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 in Montgomery, Ala. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

Educators and members of the Legislature Monday sharply criticized Barbara Cooper’s forced resignation as Secretary of the Department of Early Childhood Education.

Gov. Kay Ivey forced Cooper out on Friday, claiming that the program was using a book with “woke” concepts. An Alabama Reflector review of the book found that it encouraged teachers to be aware of their biases and be considerate of the backgrounds of students.

Richard Franklin, the president of the Birmingham American Federation of Teachers, said the news left him “in shock” on Friday.

“I was really confused because normally, if you appoint somebody, it doesn’t get to that point unless there is something unethical going on,” Franklin said.

Dr. Barbara Cooper
Barbara Cooper was forced to resign by Gov. Kay Ivey on April 21, 2023 over a teacher training book that Ivey’s office called “woke.”

The book in question is The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Developmentally Appropriate Practice Book, 4th Edition. The book is a guide to inform teaching practices in preschool classrooms. Ivey’s office said they had received a complaint that the book taught white privilege, structural racism and messaging that promoted “equality, dignity and worth” around LGBTQIA+ identities.

“Governor Ivey strongly believes that woke concepts have no place at any level of education in the state of Alabama and should not be taking away from the overall mission of improving educational outcomes for students,” a statement said Friday.

The book, however, is aimed at teachers and not children, and encourages teachers to consider the diverse backgrounds of children in order to create welcoming environments. The book notes that Black children are often subjected to harsh school discipline than white children.

“Teachers need to be particularly aware of providing supporting environments and responses to children who are members of marginalized groups and those who have been targets of bias and stereotyping,” one passage said.

Cooper could not be reached for comment Monday.

The NAEYC said in a statement Friday that the book had been honed over years “to support teachers in helping all children thrive and reach their full potential.”

“Building on the good work that is happening in states and communities, NAEYC looks forward to continuing its partnership with families, educators, and policymakers to further our shared goals of offering joyful learning environments that see, support, and reflect all children and their families,” the statement said.

Critics believe the incident was a political statement. School systems have become a battleground in the nation’s culture wars, with fault lines centering not only on the topic of gender identity, but also the curriculum.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, noted that Ivey had praised Cooper in 2022 when she was appointed to the NAEYC Board.

“You go from congratulating her for being on the board, to now trying to allow a political issue to basically erase the progress that this lady has built in her career in a press release,” he said. “If someone was working for me, my goal is that if we have a disagreement, that is one thing, but to try and ruin a person based upon a guide given to teachers, that is shortsighted.”

Franklin said that the administration could release its own guide for teachers to follow instead of using outside materials to guide teaching.

“The implications of Governor Ivey’s decision to fire the director of early childhood education are far-reaching,” said Jalaya Liles-Dunn, director of the SPLC’s Learning for Justice. “It signals the governor’s plans to undermine the education of Alabama students by discouraging educators to acknowledge the histories and lived experiences of Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ people.”


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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.