Parental Rights vs. Public Schools
David Parker (search) 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
Bookbag 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
(The Bookbag is supposed to be a voluntary
program but the Parkers knew nothing about it in
Parker immediately e-mailed the Estabrook school
principal, Joni Jay (search). 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 (search) 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
By law, Massachusetts requires schools to notify
parents when sexuality is scheduled for discussion.
Lexington School Committee chairman Thomas B.
Griffiths explained, "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
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 why he insisted on staying, Parker
replied, "I wanted to see how far they [school
authorities] would go for [my] asking
The state now wishes to impose probation 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 meetings.
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 parentis" (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
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.
Meanwhile, there seems to be a campaign to
discredit Parker. The Lexington School Board has
reportedly accused Parker 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
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
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.
* * *
McElroy 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 her latest book,
Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the
21st Century. She lives with her husband in
Also, see her daily blog at www.zetetics.com/mac
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