School needs own lesson in tolerance
October 1, 2005
David and Tonia Parker of Lexington, Mass., saw a red flag when their son came home from kindergarten with a "diversity book bag" that included "Who's in a Family," a book promoting acceptance of gay marriage. The Parkers thought it was their parental right to decide when and how to introduce their son to the issue of homosexuality. They believed the school, Estabrook, is right to teach tolerance of gays but wrong to raise it in kindergarten.
The Parkers did not attack the book bag program. They requested notification of any future school discussions of homosexuality so their son could opt out. They pointed to a state law defending the opt-out right of parents. The school argued that the law pertained only to sex education. In a series of E-mails, the school agreed to a meeting. When officials took a hard-nosed stance, David Parker refused to leave school property. He was arrested, led to jail in handcuffs, then let out on bail.
His trespassing trial has been delayed for months. A restraining order bans him from the school and its grounds. He cannot pick up his son after class. He cannot even vote, since the school is his voting site. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said the school is on sound legal ground, arguing that "public education would grind to a halt if parents had the right to demand classes tailored to each child based on the parent's moral views."
David Parker refuses to plea-bargain on the trespassing charge until the school lifts its restraining order. The Parkers have assembled a legal team to handle the criminal case and a civil suit they plan to file against the school system.
Brian Camenker, head of the pro-family group Article 8 Alliance, which opposes gay marriage, wrote the state opt-out law 10 years ago and says Lexington Schools Superintendent Paul Ash misconstrued it. Even if the law didn't exist, he says, it's mind-boggling that the school would trample parental rights by denying a simple opt-out. Lexington is "an incredibly left-wing town" strongly opposed to the Parkers, he says, but in the rest of the state, maybe 80% to 90% of the people who know about the case support them.
One problem is that gay activists tend to blur the line between tolerance, which the majority of Americans favor, and approval of homosexuality, which meets greater resistance. Another problem is that public schools often view parents not as allies, but as annoying obstacles. In this case, as the Parkers' argument goes national, the obstacles stand a darned good chance of winning.