• 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
    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
    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
    “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
    he insisted on staying
    , Parker replied, “I wanted to see how
    far they [school authorities] would go for [my] asking something

    The state now
    wishes to impose
    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

    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
    (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.

    there seems to be a campaign to discredit Parker. The Lexington
    School Board has reportedly accused
    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.

    11, 2005

    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).

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