Jacksonville mother upset after child taught NRA-affiliated gun safety program at elementary school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville mom is upset that her child was taught about guns without her permission.

The woman's child is a student at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. She said gun safety is a topic that’s sensitive in her household and has her 7-year-old pushing back on her parenting.

The lesson was part of a program called Eddie Eagle, which focuses on gun safety.

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It was created by the National Rifle Association. Resource officers present Eddie Eagle lessons to children.

Duval County Public Schools said parents are usually notified before the lesson is taught and have the option to opt out.

"They’ve just undone seven years of parenting in one hour,” the mother, who didn't want to be identified, said.

She said she teaches her 7-year-old that all guns are bad. She said her son came home with a pamphlet that said otherwise.

“'Mommy, you’re wrong. Toy guns are OK. See, guns are OK, mom. See? It says so right here,” the mother said her son told her.

The mother also doesn't like that the gun lesson was designed by the NRA. She called it propaganda.

“It sends a message that Duval is NRA-affiliated,” she said.

She sent Superintendent of Duval County Schools Dr. Nikolai Vitti a message about her concern.

He said parents should have gotten a letter giving them the option to opt out of the lesson.

He also said although the program was created by the NRA, its development was guided by education, public safety and child development specialists.

Read his full response:

Thank you for sharing your concerns with me regarding a safety program that the district has been successfully using for more than 20 years in our elementary grades.  As a parent, I very much appreciate your advocacy and respect the parenting positions that you expressed in your email.  Your partnership is an important part of ensuring a quality educational experience not only for your child, but for all children.

I agree that the topic of firearms is a sensitive issue, and that the public school system needs to understand that there are multiple viewpoints held by parents when educating students.  That is why we aim to keep the message easy to understand and without a discussion on gun ownership, use, or other personal perspectives around firearms.  It is true that the National Rifle Association is part of the consortium that developed the Eddie Eagle program through its outreach office, but its development was guided by specialists in education, public safety, public health, and child development.  This curriculum is not intended to assume your authority to guide your child's moral development.  Please know that I take nothing more seriously than keeping students safe when they are with us at school, and I hope the messages we provide will help keep them safe when they are away from our classrooms. The program is about gun safety. Information that many students are unaware of and could save their lives.

Like any safety program, we are most concerned that the content and the message is something that the student can understand and ultimately remember should he or she ever be faced with a threatening situation.  Our choice of Eddie Eagle is based on its use of colorful and animated characters that a second grader can respond to, and content that is embedded in music to make the learning fun and engaging.   The Eddie Eagle program, with its simple message of "Stop!; Don't Touch; Run Away; and Tell A Grown-up," along with its brief video and catchy song helps to bring alive an important message without intimidating the children.

When the Eddie Eagle program is delivered in schools, the district uses an "opt out" letter to parents.  It was discovered by staff that this did not happen for your child's classroom, hence your surprise and frustration with not even having the opportunity to ask questions or review the curriculum.  Moving forward, we will ensure this consistently occurs."

Laureen Ricks, a DCPS spokesperson, also provided a statement:

The Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program was chosen because its gun-safety message is packaged in an engaging and easily-relatable presentation that resonates with students. This is key because the safety of our students is one of our highest priorities. The program does not contain any messaging about gun ownership, use of firearms, endorsements, or political perspectives. Please note this is a voluntary presentation and parents may choose to opt their child out of participating. ‎Too many children grow up not being exposed to gun safety."