Parents object to Maryland school district refusing to let kids opt out of storybook time
Muslim, Jewish and Christian parents head to court because school storybooks advocate gender transitioning, other idealogical instruction.
School started Monday in Montgomery County, Maryland, and with it came the loss of local parents’ rights to opt their children out of idealogical instruction on family life and sexuality, including gender identity, according to a lawsuit filed by Muslim, Jewish and Christian parents.
The parents asked a federal appeals court this week for an injunction to allow them to opt their children out of storybooks that advocate gender transitioning, pride parades and pronoun preferences for kids as young as pre-kindergarten.
The Montgomery County Board of Education took away parental notice and opt-outs for storybooks for this school year. Parents from a Muslim family, a Jewish family and a Christian family asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday for an emergency motion for injunction pending appeal.
“In particular, the (school) board has made clear that, once students enter the classroom, parents lose any right to opt their children out of ideological instruction that, in the school board’s own words, seeks to ‘disrupt’ the child’s ‘either/or thinking”’ on gender and sexuality,” according to the motion for the emergency injunction.
“Children deserve the guidance of their parents when learning about complex issues around gender and sexuality,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which is representing the religious parents, in a statement. “That’s why we are asking the Fourth Circuit to step in to protect the right of parents to guide their children’s education consistent with their religious beliefs.”
A U.S. District Court judge denied an injunction last week, clearing the way for the school year to begin with the district curriculum that has all students participate in the lessons without informing parents or asking for their consent.
LGBTQ+ advocates and the school board’s attorneys say the board is advocating for inclusivity in its curriculum. People who support what the books rallied outside the school district.
“I think it’s really important that everybody is included, that kids get exposure to people who are not like them,” Mara Greengrass told News4 in Washington, D.C.
Those opposed rallied on Aug. 9.
“The Board forged ahead with its storybook mandate over the concerns of thousands of parents and its own principals,” Grace Morrison said in a statement. Morrison is a board member of Kids First, an association of parents and teachers advocating for notice and opt-outs in Montgomery County Schools. “But the School Board does not replace parents, who know best about how and when to introduce their elementary-age children to complex and sensitive issues around gender and sexuality.”
A preliminary decision by the federal appeals court on the parents’ emergency motion for an injunction is anticipated early this fall.
The new books were announced last fall for students in pre-K through eighth grade. Becket materials say the books champion controversial ideology. Becket says one book, for example, asks 3- and 4-year-olds to search for images from a word list that includes “intersex flag,” “drag queen,” “underwear” and the name of a celebrated LGBTQ activist and sex worker.
Other books focus on children’s romantic feelings, gender transitioning and gender identification.
The board initially told parents they would be notified when the books were read and they could opt out for their children.
“The court’s decision is an assault on children’s right to be guided by their parents on complex and sensitive issues regarding human sexuality,” Baxter said. “The School Board should let kids be kids and let parents decide how and when to best educate their own children consistent with their religious beliefs.”
Becket attorneys say the School Board in March revoked notice and opt-outs for the storybooks contrary to Maryland law and the board’s policies.
A board member said parents who wanted the legal right to opt out for their children because of religious beliefs were searching for “another reason to hate another person.’”
The Council on Islamic-American Relations filed a declaration with the court with emails from an open records request that showed elementary school principals opposed the board’s decision to move ahead without notice and opt-outs.
Whether the federal appeals court issues an emergency injunction or not, the full case on the issue of whether the school board can mandate the books without notice or opt outs remains to be heard.