Culture War Hits Kindergarten

"My wife and I have religious beliefs that say to us it's a sin," David Parker said. He's referring to four pages in a book his 5-year-old son was given by his Massachusetts kindergarten teachers.

The book "Who's In a Family" -- included in a "diversity book bag" for students at Estabrook Elementary School -- is about all kinds of families, including multi-racial, single parent and, to Parker's chagrin, same-sex parents.

There are two main issues in this controversy, which are being debated far beyond the Estabrook school: Is teaching kids about gays and lesbians tolerance or propaganda? And how much control do parents have over what their children are taught?

In several conversations by phone, mail and e-mail, Parker asked teachers and officials at the school to notify him any time the subject of homosexuality was discussed in class.

"When affirmation and normalization of these lifestyles come up, parents want to know about [it] and have the option to opt out," he said.

Dr. Paul Ash, superintendent of Lexington Public Schools, said the school tried to be accommodating.

"The school department said, 'Look, we'll work with you, but we cannot assure you what a child is going to say and that we can immediately stop a discussion that you find objectionable,'" said Ash. "One of the central units in kindergarten is the discussion of families and we show families of all different types." Ash says the discussions "ended up in an irreconcilable difference."

After one meeting in April, Parker refused to leave the school without that assurance. He was arrested and, after refusing to post the $40 bail, he spent the night in jail.

The school board then obtained a restraining order to keep him off school property.

Last month, the community held rallies both for and against Parker on the Lexington green. Many parents, after all, agree with the school's effort to instill sensitivity in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.

"We try to treat all the families as being equal and being equally valid, and anything short of that is doing a disservice to all of our children," said Laura Tully, an Estabrook parent. "I don't see a middle ground here."

The same can be said for same-sex marriage opponents.

"This is sort of lunacy to have same-sex partners discussed in a first grade or a kindergarten," said Brian Camenker, president of Article 8 Alliance, a group opposing same-sex marriage.

Parker's jury trial for trespassing on school property begins tomorrow. He says the outcome will not stop him from protesting if teachers discuss homosexuality with his son. This is likely to be a controversy coming soon to a school -- or book bag -- near you.

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