Two couples in Massachusetts have sued their school district in federal court over storybooks dealing with same-sex marriage.
In their lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boston, David and Tonia Parker and Joseph and Robin Wirthlin claim school officials broke state law and violated their civil rights by "indoctrinating" their children in a lifestyle they consider immoral.
The Wirthlins complained after a teacher read "King and King," a storybook about two princes who fall in love, to their son's second-grade class without notifying them in advance.
The suit names their town of Lexington, Mass.; school committee members; the director of education; Estabrook Elementary School principal Joni Jay; a teacher; the coordinator of health and school superintendent Paul Ash.
It marked the anniversary of David Parker's arrest last year for refusing to leave the Estabrook campus when officials would not exclude his 6-year-old son from discussions of same-sex parents. Parker was upset after his son brought home a "diversity book bag" that included "Who's In The Family?", a book showing children from different types of families, including one with two fathers.
Ash told the Boston Globe the school has not done anything illegal and is not foisting an agenda on unsuspecting children.
"In Massachusetts, gays have equal rights," he told the newspaper. "We have gay marriage. Our kids see it. It's part of our overall curriculum. We're talking about what kids see in today's world."
Prompted in part by a campaign by the right-wing Concerned Women for America, hundreds of people have sent e-mails to Jay, many of them out-of-staters who oppose gay rights. Jay told the Globe she files away those e-mails in a computer folder labeled "angry letters."
"I try as much as I can not to take it personally," she said, noting that most e-mails from locals have been supportive. "I try to focus on my job and not think about it."
Lisa Regul, a spokeswoman for Ten Speed Press, the Berkeley, Calif., publisher of "King and King," told the PlanetOut Network that her company is used to the controversy the book generates. "There have been other states and other schools -- in fact, it's number eight on the banned-book list," Regul said. That's up from ninth in 2003, according to the American Library Association.
Jeffrey Denner, the couples' attorney, agrees that LGBT issues will come up in schools in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, but he insists the school district violated the parents' rights by unilaterally deciding how LGBT issues will be taught.
Denner added that the school is ignoring a state requirement to notify parents when such topics are discussed so they can remove their children from class if they want.
The school, however, contends that the Massachusetts "opt-out" law requires schools to inform parents about certain content only when human sexuality is the primary focus. "We're not talking about sex here. We are talking about families," Jay told the Globe.
Ash said it would be impossible to notify parents every time such issues come up. He added that in the particular episode that triggered the lawsuit, a child chose "King and King" for the teacher to read, so no notice could have been given.
Dutch children's authors Stern Nijland and Linda de Haan, who penned the book, are both straight women. They say they don't know what all the fuss is about.
"It's just a children's book about love, and we don't understand why it's causing such a heavy response from people," Nijland told Berkeley's Daily Californian in 2004.