Parental Rights vs. Public Schools

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David Parker
of Lexington, Mass., is scheduled to
go on trial
on Sept. 21 for asking his son’s public school to
provide parental notification before discussing homosexuality with
the 6-year-old.

The actual
charge is criminal trespassing. But the real issue is whether parents
or schools will control the teaching of values to children.

The conflict
began on Jan. 17, when Parker’s then-5-year-old son brought home
a Diversity
Bookbag
from kindergarten. Included was Robert Skutch’s “Who’s
In a Family?”
that depicts families headed by same-sex couples.
Parker had wanted to decide for himself the timing and manner in
which his son was introduced to the subject of homosexuality.

(The Bookbag
is supposed to be a voluntary program but the Parkers knew nothing
about it in advance.)

Parker immediately
e-mailed
the Estabrook
school principal, Joni Jay. Parker expressed his belief that gay
parents did not constitute “a spiritually healthy family”; he did
not wish his son to be taught that a gay family is “a morally equal
alternative to other family constructs.”

Parker acknowledged
the equal rights of gays but objected to “the ‘out of the closet’
and into the kindergarten classroom mentality.” In essence, Parker
highlighted the difference between tolerance, which acknowledges
someone’s right to make a choice, and acceptance, which is the personal
validation of that choice.

The conflict
moved quickly from the Diversity Bookbag to the more general issue
of parental notification. The Parkers wanted to know if sexuality
was scheduled to be discussed in class so they could remove their
son. They also wanted their son removed from any “spontaneous conversations”
about sexuality that involved an adult.

By law, Massachusetts
requires schools to notify parents when sexuality is scheduled for
discussion. Lexington School Committee chairman Thomas B. Griffiths
explained,
“We don’t view telling a child that there is a family out there
with two mommies as teaching about homosexuality.” In an e-mail,
the Estabrook school principal stated, “I have confirmed … that
discussion of differing families, including gay-headed families,
is not included in the parental notification policy.”

At an April
27 meeting at the school, Parker refused to leave without an assurance
that he would receive parental notification. Arrested for criminal
trespass, he spent the night in jail.

When asked
why
he insisted on staying
, Parker replied, “I wanted to see how
far they [school authorities] would go for [my] asking something
simple.”

The state now
wishes to impose
probation
upon Parker, along with other restrictions – such
as banning him from Lexington school properties without prior written
permission from the superintendent of schools. This means he is
barred from places to vote, as well as school committee and parent-teacher
meetings.

Parker is contesting
the charge. Why? After his arraignment, he stated, “I’m just trying
to be a good dad.” During a May 11 appearance on the FOX News Channel’s
“The O’Reilly Factor,” Parker expanded
on this statement
, saying that he wanted his son “to play on
the swing set and make mud pies. I don’t want him thinking about
same-sex unions in kindergarten.”

Parker’s attorney,
Jeffrey Denner, points to a
larger issue
– “the role of family and what kind of encroachments
government can make into children’s and people’s lives.”

Otherwise stated,
schools are usurping the parental role of teaching personal values
to children. They are not acting as educators but as guardians,
“in loco
parentis”
(in the place of a parent). Some schools clearly consider
this function to be their right, even over parental objections.
Thus, Estabrook defends its “right” to teach Parker’s son to accept
same-sex marriages.

Denner hopes
to resolve the conflict before trial but he also intends to
file a civil suit
in federal court against the town of Lexington,
the school system and its officials.

Meanwhile,
there seems to be a campaign to discredit Parker. The Lexington
School Board has reportedly accused
Parker
of wanting to be arrested to grab “headlines.” If true,
it is strange that he wasted months on e-mails, faxes and school
meetings before making his move. Parker’s actions sound more like
those of a father with no options left.

The school
also claims that Parker’s demands would prevent other children from
discussing their families or drawing pictures of them.

But this is
far from what’s been officially requested. According to Neil Tassel,
Parker’s co-counsel, “the Parkers’ proposal was simple: notify them
in advance if there is a planned discussion about same-sex issues,
and, if an adult becomes involved in a discussion spontaneously
begun by a child, then remove their child from the discussion.”

School authorities
quite reasonably responded that they could not be held responsible
for monitoring spontaneous conversations or remarks made in the
class. Moreover, they contend that children with gay parents have
a right to talk about their families and have their families represented.

At some point
in the dialogue, however, reason broke down; police were called.
The attacks on Parker have been so intense that Tassel recently
found it necessary to write
a defense
in the local paper denying that his client is a shill
for or member of Article 8,
a controversial organization opposed to same-sex marriage.

He pointed
to Parker’s Ph.D. to deflect criticism of his client as an ignorant
book burner. To counter the charge that Parker hates gays, Tassel
described him as “an exceptionally kind-hearted man” whose best
friend was gay.

Perhaps Estabrook
authorities are trying to divert attention from the real question:
Is Parker simply demanding parental notification or not? I think
he is.

David Parker
cares so deeply that he is willing to go to jail and endure a lengthy
court process for the right to be a parent. In a world where a myriad
of social problems can be traced back to parental abuse or indifference,
it is incredible that Parker is being treated
as a criminal
and not as the hero he is.

August
11, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail] is the editor
of ifeminists.com and a research fellow
for The Independent Institute in Oakland,
Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the
new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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