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19 attorneys general oppose opt-out option from LGBTQ+ books for 2nd graders

(The Center Square) – A coalition of 19 attorneys general filed an amicus brief in support of a local Maryland board of education’s policy that does not allow parents to opt their children out of LGBTQ+ inclusive texts. The lawsuit was filed by three families against the Montgomery County Board of Education, with two of the three families suing on behalf of policies for their second grade children, while the third did not list the grade level of its elementary school children. The parents, who are Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Ukrainian Orthodox, filed their lawsuit on religious freedom grounds. 

In the initial ruling from a federal judge, the parents’ lawsuit was struck down, with the judge claiming the required reading of the books would not result in the “indoctrination of their children” or “coerce their children to violate or change their religious beliefs.”

In their lawsuit, they cited situations in the the books My Rainbow, about a mother who creates a rainbow-colored wig for her transgender child, and Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope, a book about “an elementary-aged child who experiences triumphs and frustrations in convincing others what the child knows to be true—that he’s a boy, not a girl,” as going against their faiths. 

According to religious liberties law firm Becket, these books “portray elementary school age children falling in love with other children, regardless of sexual preferences,” and include terms like “intersex flag,” “[drag] king,” “platform shoes,” “lip ring” and “leather” among word lists children can match to images.

These books were adopted as part of the school district’s English programs for students in kindergarten through fifth grade in October 2022 after a spring 2022 review by the school board found the books in the existing English curriculum “were not sufficiently representative because they did not include LGBTQ characters.” 

The parents appealed the judge’s ruling and the case now faces the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where the multi-state coalition filed its amicus brief

In their brief, the attorneys general chiefly argue, “all students benefit from safe and supportive schools that foster an inclusive environment,” that “the county’s use of the books at issue permissibly fosters tolerance and prepares children for a diverse world.” Lastly, the coalition opposing the parent’s lawsuit claims the main argument of the supporting coalition of 30 other attorneys general — that “the County purportedly has failed to follow the common practice of allowing students to opt out of sex education classes” — because “the County’s integration of LGBTQ+-inclusive books into its language arts curriculum is not sex education. 

The cases reflect an ongoing tension across the country between school boards and parents, who are increasingly choosing to either become more active in school politics or pull their children out of traditional public schools. In some states, such as California, states are seeking to reduce control and oversight over curriculums and school policies from local school boards. This has led to incidents such as the situation at Temecula Valley Unified School District, where California governor Gavin Newsom successfully threatened to fine the school district $1.5 million for at first refusing to adopt a curriculum including lessons on LGBTQ+ history for 1st through 5th graders it deemed would require “having to explain sex and gender at an ‘inappropriate’ age.”

The coalition of 19 attorneys general includes California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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