MCPS revises policy on LGBTQ-friendly books
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. - Third grade parents at Damascus Elementary School became frustrated when they found out their kids were being read an LGBTQ-inclusive book. Some allegedly began pulling their children out of the class.
The book, "Uncle Bobby’s Wedding," is about a niece concerned she was going to lose her favorite uncle if he got married. The niece comes to learn she is not losing a family member, but gaining one. The book also includes the topic of same-sex marriage as Uncle Bobby marries another man.
Parents involved in the initial complaint were not willing to interview on-camera. FOX 5 spoke with other Montgomery County Public Schools parents on the matter.
Danielle Ibarra, while waiting to pick up her child at Damascus Elementary School, told FOX 5 she’s already read the book to her other children.
"I think religion probably plays a big factor. I guess I’m just in the camp of, we’re all in this together – so we should try to show that to our children too," Ibarra said.
"I’m neither for nor against," said Shireen Jarrar.
"That’s as long as parents give the green light," she added. "I want parents to be aware and just to approve of it."
After FOX 5 reached out to MCPS on the Damascus Elementary School claims, another parent posted to a public forum online that they were upset with a different LGBTQ-inclusive book being read at another MCPS elementary school.
The other book is titled, "Prince and Knight." It’s about a prince who finds his significant other: a knight.
Stephanie Pate told FOX 5 she learned about the book after her 8-year-old daughter came home from Germantown Elementary School last week, crying.
"She was being called "gay, lesbian." I reached out to the school and I found out they had ended up reading a book with two males kissing," Pate explained.
When asked why her daughter was being called those names, the mother answered, "I’m not sure, I think it was just kids being kids."
"She came home and asked me why her teacher showed her a book of two guys kissing and then asked me what the names meant," Pate added.
The Germantown Elementary School parent claims her daughter was bullied and that it turned physical when another student hit her 8-year-old. Pate also said she asked her daughter’s school for a list of books that will be read to her child – along with the request for her daughter to opt out if any other LGBTQ-inclusive books are read to the class in the future. The Germantown Elementary School parent told FOX 5 she was not getting answers.
Pate also used the word "grooming" in her online post. She said that she does feel the book is opening a door. She also said it’s not that she’s against same-sex marriage, she just wants the option to opt out.
"My frustration is, as a parent, I wish they would’ve reached out and asked first and let me have that decision," Pate said. "I just feel like every child is different. I think where one 8-year-old could understand something, maybe a 10-year-old would understand something, and I think it’s the right of the parent to be able to teach that, not the school system."
Pate said she loves the other two MCPS schools her other children are in. However, she’s now considering removing her child from Germantown Elementary School.
It appears some parents were not aware of any changes to the MCPS curriculum. A school spokesperson says those changes were announced back in January. FOX 5 is told this is one of the statements that went out at the time:
MCPS is committed to ensuring all students and their families see themselves in the curriculum to cultivate an inclusive and welcoming learning environment. These books are on the approved list of supplemental materials schools will have access to that align with our goal of providing more inclusive texts and resources in support of curriculum standards.
As part of MCPS' mission to equity, "instructional materials are chosen to reflect the diversity of our global community, the aspirations, issues and achievements of women, persons with disabilities, persons from diverse, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, as well as persons of diverse gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation."
Additionally, two goals of the MCPS gender identity guidelines are to reduce stigmatization and foster social integration and cultural inclusiveness of all students and their families in our very diverse community. These policies involved extensive conversation and community input. These books are a way to actualize the policy and guidelines and have undergone a rigorous evaluation process. All the content within them is age and developmentally-appropriate.
There is a review process for books evaluated as MCPS "textbooks." A MCPS spokesperson says according to Montgomery County Board of Education Policy, a five-person panel of staffers reviews the book. The reviews and book information then get posted online for 30 days, so that parents and/or guardians can also review the material and comment before possible approval.
What if a parent wants to opt out? Is their only option to pull their child from the class?
The MCPS Spokesperson shared with FOX 5 on Wednesday, "When a teacher selects the curriculum, a notification goes out to parents about the book. If a parent chooses to opt out, a teacher can find a substitute text for that student that supports these standards and aligns with curriculum."
On Thursday, the school district updated its messaging regarding the use of inclusive texts.
"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. A broad representation of personal characteristics within curricular or instructional materials promotes this desired outcome. Therefore, as with all curriculum resources, there is an expectation that teachers utilize these inclusive lessons and texts with all students," the statement reads.
"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."
The school district says it is currently working with its principals to clarify expectations.