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Maryland School District Bars Parents from Opting Children Out of LGBT Book Lessons, Prompting Lawsuit

May 25, 2023

On Tuesday, a group of six Christian and Muslim parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Education over the Maryland school district’s decision to revoke the right of parents to be able to opt their children out of lessons that include the use of books promoting gender ideology and other sexual themes.

The dispute began in March, when Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) approved 22 “LGBTQ+ inclusive texts” for grades pre-K through 8. The parents were told that starting next year, “no notice will be given and no opt-outs tolerated because their kids must learn to be more ‘LGBTQ-Inclusive.’”

The parents, who are being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, note in their suit that “Maryland law and the School Board’s own policies require parental notice and opportunity to opt out of any instruction concerning ‘family life and human sexuality.’” But on March 23, MCPS reversed its previous position of allowing parents to opt out by categorizing the LGBT-themed books as “inclusive” and not sexual in nature:

“[T]here is as an expectation that teachers utilize these inclusive lessons and texts with all students. … Students and families may not choose to opt out of engaging with any instructional materials, other than ‘Family Life and Human Sexuality Unit of Instruction’ which is specifically permitted by Maryland law. As such, teachers will not send home letters to inform families when inclusive books are read in the future.”

But as the suit describes, “the books promote controversial ideology around transgenderism and focus excessively on children’s romantic feelings.” One of the books approved for pre-K, entitled “Pride Puppy,” “invites three- and four-year-olds to look for images of things they might find at a pride parade, including an ‘intersex [flag],’ a ‘[drag] king’ and ‘[drag] queen,’ ‘leather,’ ‘underwear,’ and an image of a celebrated LGBTQ activist and sex worker, ‘Marsha P. Johnson.’” It goes on to point out that “Pre-K teachers assigned to read the book in their classrooms are provided a resource guide from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for ‘defining LGBTQ+ words for elementary students.’”

Another book entitled “Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope” depicts a mother telling her daughter who expresses interest in being a boy that “today you’re my teacher.” The lawsuit notes that the book “advocates a child-knows-best approach to gender transitioning, telling students that a decision to transition doesn’t have to ‘make sense’ and that students are the best ‘teacher’ on such matters, not parents or other adults.”

During an MCPS school board meeting on March 28, board member Lynne Harris defended the decision to rescind the opt out option, saying that allowing parents to pull their children out of lessons involving LGBT ideology is tantamount to telling their children, “Here’s another reason to hate another person.”

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, pushed back against this argument. “Children are entitled to guidance from their own parents, who know and love them best, regarding how they’ll be introduced to complex issues concerning gender identity, transgenderism, and human sexuality,” he said. “Forced, ideological discussions during story hour won’t cut it, and excluding parents will only hinder, not help inclusivity.”

Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, argued further that lessons based on books discussing LGBT ideology have no place in public education.

“Let’s not forget that opting out of this kind of curriculum is the barest of minimum guarantees for parents,” she told The Washington Stand. “Sexual content in schools should be presented only with express written permission of the parent, with the same kinds of permissions schools get for field trips, band class, sports participation, etc. The fact that the educational system assumes this kind of sexual propaganda material is academically useful might be part of the reason test scores are in continued decline. Would ‘inclusive’ resources be prioritized for classroom instruction if the Muslim or Christian parents offered books about their religious faith? Why does sexual information from a left-wing political group rate as academic content in the first place?”

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.