The “Stay Safe” book distributed to students in the Dallas Independent School District features Winnie-the-Pooh characters instructing students to run, hide and fight in a school shooting. Image Credit: Cindy Campos

When Cindy Campos's 5-year-old son came back from school, he eagerly pulled from his bag a book he'd been given at school. He wanted to read it right away.

Campos took the book and froze. On the bright red cover, next to an illustration of Winnie-the-Pooh, were the words "Run Hide Fight."

She skimmed through the pages and found it was an instructional book intended to teach children - in rhyming lines rendered in curly font - what to do in a school shooting.

"Danger is scary, but our legendary friends Pooh and his crew are here to help us through," reads one page.

"If danger finds us, don't stay, run away," reads another, accompanied by a drawing of the characters Kanga and Roo in boxing gloves. "If we can't get away, we have to FIGHT with all our might."

The distribution of the books around May 15, which was first reported by the Oak Cliff Advocate, sparked a wave of concern from parents in Campos's Dallas school district, she told The Washington Post. Campos, whose children attend Leslie A. Stemmons Elementary School, found another copy of the book in her first-grade son's bag and later learned from a teacher that the books had been issued by their school.

Campos criticized the decision to distribute the books without informing parents and questioned the school district's "tone deaf" timing, just over a week before the anniversary of the school shooting that killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Tex. More than anything, she said, the surreal image of Winnie-the-Pooh telling her children to hide and fight felt like an infuriating sign of acceptance in a country that has endured hundreds of school shootings.

"It's kind of like a slap in the face," Campos said. "'Hey! It's normal now. Have a book about it.'"

A spokesperson for the Dallas Independent School District wrote that the district faces a "reality . . . no different than any other school district in America" with regard to the risk of school shootings.

"Recently a booklet was sent home so parents could discuss with their children how to stay safe in such cases," the spokesperson 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."

Campos said that she couldn't avoid discussing the topic of shootings with her two sons, ages 5 and 7, after the mass killing at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde last year. But they're still too young to fully grapple with the subject.

"They're thinking, 'Oh, it's kind of like my Nerf gun,'" Campos said. "I'm trying to tell them, in a 'cute, but it's going to be okay' way, that it's not. And I don't even know how to do that as a parent. It's not in the parenting books."

Campos's youngest son, who's now in prekindergarten, didn't realize the subject of the book he handed to his mother, either. When Campos sat down with him to read it later that evening, she said he still hadn't grasped the severity of the book's warnings. That they were delivered by Winnie-the-Pooh didn't seem to help.

"You can't, like, hide in a honey pot," Campos said. "It just felt very pretend. To him, he's thinking, this isn't about guns."

The Winnie-the-Pooh book, titled "Stay Safe," was published by Praetorian Consulting, a company that provides security training to businesses and schools. Its website advertises the book as part of a K-6 curriculum developed by police officers and teachers to teach safety during school intrusions in an "age-appropriate format." It can use Winnie-the-Pooh and the rest of A.A. Milne's cast of animal characters because they entered the public domain in 2022, the site adds.

"It is our belief that, as with other school safety strategies like fire-drills, pedestrian safety and stranger-danger, the concepts of Run, Hide, Fight must be discussed regularly with students of all ages," Praetorian Consulting's website reads.

Praetorian Consulting did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Campos said she didn't make a complaint to her school or the district but discussed the book with her prekindergarten son's teacher, who told her that she'd been given the book as one of many the school routinely gives to students to read. After reading the book with her son, Campos shared her concerns in a community Facebook group and found several other parents and teachers who were also alarmed, she said, including those from other schools in the Dallas Independent School District.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who has disparaged gun laws in red states like Texas, joined the criticism on social media.

"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," he said in a tweet.

Daniel Campos, Campos's brother, said the thought of his nephews confronting the reality of school shootings in a Winnie-the-Pooh book was frustrating - all the more so, he added, as the anniversary of the Uvalde shooting passes and in the absence of stricter gun laws.

"The best they can do is give a children's book and hope for the best," he said.

Roughly two weeks after Campos's son first brought it home, the Winnie-the-Pooh book is still on her son's shelf. Soon, she will have to continue grappling with the question of how to explain its message to her son.

"He wants to read it again," Campos said. "I'm pretty sure because I cried. To them, it's like, something made mommy cry. What's going on?"