Jun 28, 2023 - News

Some Montgomery County parents want to opt out of lessons with LGBTQ+ books

Books at the annual Pride Town Hall at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda in 2022. Photo: Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Hundreds of parents protested outside of a Montgomery County school board meeting yesterday, calling on the district to allow families to opt out of a new curriculum that includes LGBTQ+ books.

Why it matters: Fights over what kids can read in schools, particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality, have become a conservative rallying cry across the nation in recent years — this time in predominantly blue Montgomery County.

  • Virginia's Loudoun County pulled a memoir about gender identity from its shelves last year.

Driving the news: Parents and religious organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Family Rights and Religious Freedom Coalition, are demanding that the district restore its opt-out option for the school curriculum.

  • Conservative group Moms for Liberty, which the Southern Poverty Law Center named an extremist group, also joined in.
  • The district tightened security protocols at the building where yesterday's meeting was held. The school board didn't have plans to discuss the opt-out policy on its agenda.

Catch up quick: The school district adopted a no-opt-out policy in March for its updated K-12 curriculum that includes books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and topics such as "The Stonewall Riots" by Gayle Pitman and "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" by Sarah Brannen.

  • The change in policy has led to a months-long outcry from some parents as well as a lawsuit against the district filed in May.
  • Earlier this month, a Montgomery County school board official apologized for comments she made about Muslim families who wanted the opt-out policy reinstated. She said her comments mischaracterized the complicated issue, MoCo360 reported.

What they're saying: The materials are part of MCPS' "goal of providing more inclusive texts and resources in support of curriculum standards," the district told Axios in a statement.

  • Those materials, the district said, were selected to "reflect the diversity of our global community," and have undergone a rigorous evaluation process to ensure they're age and developmentally appropriate.
  • "MCPS expects all classrooms to be inclusive and safe spaces for students, including those who identify as LGBTQ+ or have family members in the LGBTQ+ community," the district added.

Some Montgomery County families joined counterprotests at previous school board meetings, supporting the curriculum which they say promotes empathy.

The other side: Zainab Chaudry, director of the Maryland Council on American-Islamic Relations, says the campaign to restore the opt-out policy is about religious freedom and ensuring the district honors families' "sincerely held beliefs."

  • "It is not about banning books," Chaudry told Axios.
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