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Federal Federal File

Return to Sender

By Vaishali Honawar — February 01, 2005 1 min read
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A cartoon bunny who jets around exploring America’s diverse cultures on public TV has ruffled Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

In her first full week on the job, the secretary wrote to Pat Mitchell, the president of the Public Broadcasting Service, to voice “strong and very serious concerns” about an episode of the children’s series “Postcards from Buster” because it features two families headed by same-sex couples.

Postcards from Buster

The PBS series centers around an animated 8-year-old rabbit, Buster Baxter, who tours the country with his airplane-pilot father. The show mixes animation with live-action segments, such as a visit to a Mormon family in Utah and a Hmong community in Wisconsin.

Ms. Spellings objected to an episode titled “Sugar Time!” about Buster’s visit to Vermont, where he learns how to make maple syrup with the children of two lesbian couples.

In her letter, she said the episode does not meet the goals of the Department of Education’s Ready-to-Learn program for funding educational television. “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode,” she wrote. She demanded that PBS remove from the episode the department’s seal and any other indication that it had funded the episode and to consider returning federal money that was used for the episode.

Jeanne Hopkins, a spokeswoman for Boston public-television station WGBH, said the station had received $5 million from PBS to produce 40 episodes of the series. It was not clear late last week how much of that was made up of federal Ready-to-Learn funds.

PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan said that the broadcasting service had decided not to distribute the episode to its 349 member stations even before it had received the secretary’s letter. The episode had been scheduled to air for the first time on Feb. 2.

However, WGBH plans to air it on March 23 and to make it available to other stations. “We feel the episode fits very much within the goal of helping children appreciate and learn about differences and learning to respect one another,” Ms. Hopkins said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 02, 2005 edition of Education Week

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