WASHINGTON – Some Maryland parents are challenging a ruling by a judge, claiming that their school district stripped them of the right to opt their children out of storybooks that run contrary to their faith.
In Montgomery County, Maryland classrooms, books about sexuality and identity are being taught as early as pre-kindergarten.
The parents are from multi-faith backgrounds, but they’re standing united to express one voice when it comes to their children.
Chanting “We Will Not Stop” while holding signs that say “Let Parents Parent” at a recent rally in Greenbelt, Maryland, parents wearing both hijabs and crosses say the Montgomery County Board of Education is unfairly removing parental notice and opt-outs for certain storybooks.
The school district introduced the books under a new inclusive curriculum for its Pre-K to 5th-grade students last fall.
Parents say they feel as though the school district took away their ability to raise their children in a way that is consistent with their faith. They’re asking a federal appeals court to restore parental preference.
They point out the books cover topics on gender transitioning and pronoun preferences for kids as young as Pre-K.
Though the parents say the books are inappropriate, last week a U.S. District Court dismissed their request to let their kids opt out of classes where the books are read and discussed.
“We feel that we have the right to instruct our kids specifically on the issues of family life and sexuality,” parent Wael Elkoshairi said. “We’ve found that we’ve had to systematically and consistently prove to people that religion is real.”
Elkoshairi leads the group, Family Rights for Religious Freedom. He says teaching the material without giving parents the chance to excuse their children infringes on their religious freedom. The parents are appealing the preliminary ruling.
In the decision, the judge writes that the plaintiffs don’t prove that the storybooks are “impermissible indoctrination.”
Instead of letting their children leave during the book readings, parents say the school is forcing them to stay inside the classroom this year.
One legal expert tells CBN’s “Faith Nation” that the court battles involving education, parents’ rights, and religious liberty will probably go all the way to the nation’s highest court.
“That conflict between sexual orientation and the religious beliefs on marriage is going to ultimately become a conflict and sure enough we’ve seen it now on a finer scale within the context of public education,” says Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow with Heritage Foundation.
Parents are still echoing their resolve to not quit.
“When schools are going and teaching matters that go to the core of a child’s own self-understanding, who that child is when he or she looks in the mirror, that goes to the core of the parent-child relationship,” says William Haun, an attorney with Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Parents are the first teachers.”
A preliminary decision on the parents’ motion for an injunction pending appeal is anticipated early this fall.
In a March 2023 statement, MCPS officials stated they’re committed to safe spaces for students. They say:
“As is standard practice, when planning for instruction teachers/schools are encouraged to utilize a variety of resources to continue to promote an inclusive environment as outlined in the MCPS Core Values and Board Policy. Students and families may not choose to opt out of engaging with any instructional materials, other than ‘Family Life and Human Sexuality Unit of Instruction” which is specifically permitted by Maryland law. As such, teachers will not send home letters to inform families when inclusive books are read in the future.”