‘We will never surrender our children!’: Groups protest Montgomery Co. schools’ book opt-out provision

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Montgomery County Public School system’s Board of Education office to press the school board to reverse its decision barring an opt-out provision over the use of LGBTQ+ books. (Credit Family Rights for Religious Freedom)
Protesters gathered outside the Montgomery County Public School system’s Board of Education office Tuesday afternoon to press the school board to reverse its decision barring an opt-out provision over the use of LGBTQ+ books for children from pre-K through fifth grade.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s Board of Education meeting, tweets from the group Family Rights for Religious Freedom, which wants a return to an opt-out policy, showed protesters chanting, “We don’t hate anyone!” and “We will never surrender our children!”

Inside the school board meeting, speakers were given time to express their concerns.

The first speaker, who described herself as a Christian and “an ambassador of Christ and his coming kingdom,” told the school board that the board’s authority “is indeed asserted by God and God alone.” She added that the protesters outside were not being “represented rightly” by the school board.

Laura Stewart, a member of the new Coalition for Inclusive Schools and Communities, told the school board that the issues that were being protested become so charged that several LGBTQ+ advocates have told her they were “uncomfortable with how heated the debate has become,” and as a result, stayed away from Tuesday’s meeting.

Zainab Chaudry, regional director of the Council on Islamic American Relations, told the school board that the protesters outside the meeting were “demonstrating for their right to be able to have a say on when and how children are exposed to content that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Chaudry said the heated debate included “different forces with political agendas who are trying to pit communities against one another and fuel culture wars.” But, unlike those who applaud the school system’s no-opt-out policy, Chaudry said the way the school board has handled the issue is “reprehensible.”

Saleem Peter, who described herself as a “concerned parent” of elementary and middle school children, said the school system should be more transparent and restore the opt-out policy.

“Introducing sexual behavior and preference at an early age raise legitimate concern for us parents,” she said.

Jocelyn Guyer told board members that she was present because of her concern about the safety of LGBTQ+ students, which she said is personal for her.

Guyer said that her older daughter, who is transgender, was subjected to “vicious, vicious bullying” in 2018, and the school system was responsive to her family’s concerns at the time.

Guyer said that one student who bullied her daughter targeted one of her daughter’s friends — also transgender — and allegedly assaulted them with a group of other students who, she said, laughed and videotaped the assault.

“So yes, I am concerned. I am beyond concerned about student safety as this ugly, ugly debate intensifies,” Guyer said. “If this were truly about teaching kids at too young an age about sex, I would get it … I would.”

But she added that one of the books in the schools’ curriculum, “Prince & Knight,” is “no more about gay sex than Cinderella and Snow White are about heterosexual sex.”

The policy adopted in March states, “MCPS expects all classrooms to be inclusive and safe spaces for students, including those who identify as LGBTQ+,” and “Students and families may not choose to opt out of engaging with any instructional materials,” other than those in the “Family Life and Human Sexuality Unit of Instruction.”

The books that were introduced earlier in the year are part of the school system’s language arts curriculum, and according to school officials, reading them is not mandatory.

Last month, three Montgomery County families filed a lawsuit against the school system over the no-opt-out policy. The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland alleges the First Amendment rights of the families have been violated under the school board’s policy.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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