Who is in a family and who has the right to teach young minds about family constructs? That is the twofold question being hashed out at a public school in Lexington. A parent was arrested last week for insisting that it was his right to teach his kindergarten-aged child about same-sex headed households when it seems appropriate.
David Parker was arrested April 27 when he refused to leave his son’s school until he was allowed to opt his child out of classroom discussions involving families headed by same-sex couples.
"We don't want to start introducing that topic to our son in kindergarten right now. It's too early by our estimation," Parker, whose 6 year-old son attends Estabrook Elementary School, told The Pilot in a phone interview on May 3.
Parker said he became concerned about the topic of same-sex couples being presented at the school after his son brought home a book entitled “Who’s in a Family?” inside a “diversity book bag.” The bag was full of materials, most of them positive, but the book was a “red flag” for Parker that prompted him to question the curriculum.
The cover of the book features different types of families, including single-parents with children, a grandparent with children, children with same-sex parents, a family of animals, and a heterosexual couple with pets. Inside were pages that concerned Parker, including children living with their “two moms” and a child who lives with her dad and “her dad’s partner.”
According to Parker, after he read the book, he sent e-mails to the school’s principal, Joni Jay, and met with her. He also attended meetings of the school’s anti-bias group, which approved the book.
Parker said the anti-bias group supported putting materials like “Who’s in a Family?” inside every classroom. He added that he was shocked by the anti-bias group’s presentation on “How and Why to Talk with Your Children about Diversity.”
"This was supposed to be about how to talk to children about all diversity, but what [the presenter] did was focus almost the entire session of an hour-and-a-half to two hours on the gay issue," he said.
The group emphasized the importance of teaching young people that homosexuality is normal in order to help young people support their peers who have homosexual feelings, he said. It’s a logic Parker disagrees with.
"They're taking a problem and they're finding a solution, which involves basically teaching the youngest of kids about transgender, bisexual and gay-headed households," he said. "Most of the parents don't know this is going on."
Parker acknowledged that the school sent two notices to his house about the book bag and presented information about it at an open house his wife attended, but maintains that there were no details about material presented in the bag.
"They're not naÏve. They know it's a hot-button issue," he said.
School officials have told him that parental notification about the topic of same-sex headed households is not protected by Massachusetts law. Those attending anti-bias meetings have told him he cannot take his belief system into the school with his child, he said.
"Do the parents lose all authority?" he said. "They are trying to introduce what we consider sin into the minds of children."
Parker who identified himself as simply “a Christian” called pushing the acceptance of same-sex couples a “secular religion.”
He said he believes asserting parental rights is not a matter open to legal interpretation or administrative policy. After a series of meetings with officials at the school, he decided he would stay until they agreed to his right to be notified when the subject of same-sex couples would be taught and opt his child out of such discussions.
"I did not go in with the intention of being arrested; however, I did prepare for the worst-case-scenario," he said.
Parker said he told school officials at his meeting with the principal on April 27, “This is a non-violent act of civil disobedience.”
According to a statement issued by Estabrook’s superintendent William J. Hurley and Lexington’s chief of police Christopher Casey, Parker and his wife arrived at the school for their 3 p.m. meeting. Two plain-clothed police officers arrived at the school at 5:20 p.m., and a police lieutenant arrived at 6:00 p.m. No one could convince Parker to leave voluntarily, and he was arrested at 6:24 p.m.
The statement goes on to say that the Parkers wanted teachers to remove their child from discussions of same-sex couples, but this was not “feasible” or protected by state law that allows students to opt out of curriculum that “primarily involves human sexual education or human sexuality issues.”
Parker chose not to be bailed out and was taken to the Concord District Court for arraignment the next morning where he plead not guilty to charges of trespassing. He is due back in court on June 1. He has also received a letter from the superintendent, banning him from school property.
Brian Camenker, director of the Article 8 Alliance, a pro-family activist group opposing same-sex marriage, said Estabrook’s principal knew what Parker wanted when he came to that meeting.
At first officials at the meeting said they did not have the authority to promise Parker parental notification. Later they said the superintendent did have the authority and faxed him a written agreement that he would not sign, Camenker said.
Camenker added that this “terrible situation” is a direct result of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that said same-sex marriage is legal.
"It's referred to from time to time by educators as saying 'It's legal now, and you can't stop us,'" he said. "It's extremely frightening that a man would be arrested, taken in handcuffs to jail, spend the night in jail and hauled before a court to be notified if his six year-old son is told about homosexuality."