Children’s Book Sparks Lawsuit

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday April 27, 2006

LEXINGTON, Mass. -- Two sets of parents filed a lawsuit April 27 against the town of Lexington and its public school system after a teacher read a gay-themed fairy tale to children without notifying them first.

Reuters reported that the lawsuit against Lexington seeks unspecified damages after the book King & King was read to a classroom of about 20 children who were mostly 7 years old.

The suit also charges that the school broke a 1996 Massachusetts law requiring that parents be notified of sex-education lessons. It names Lexington Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash and several other school and town officials.

The news agency reported Lexington officials were not immediately available to comment, but Ash told Reuters in an interview this week that the school was under no legal obligation to inform parents the book would be read.

King & King tells the story of a crown prince who rejects a bevy of beautiful princesses, rebuffing each suitor until falling in love with a prince. The two marry, sealing the union with a kiss, and live happily ever after.

The Lexington school superintendent has said reading the book was not intended as sex education but as a way to educate children about the world in which they live, especially in Massachusetts, the only U.S. state where gays and lesbians can legally wed.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston alleges violations of the federal civil rights of the two sets of parents, David and Tonia Parker, and Rob and Robin Wirthlin.

It also accuses the town and school officials of violating the Massachusetts civil-rights code and the state's parental notification law, according to the parents' attorney, the Boston law firm Denner Associates.

"This is plainly a civil-rights matter," their lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, told Reuters.

The issue erupted when Robin Wirthlin complained to the school's principal after her 7-year-old son told her about the reading last month. She then turned to the conservative Massachusetts-based advocacy group Parents Rights Coalition, which then issued a statement on the case to news media.

In a statement to news media, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Boston-based legal advocacy group, denounced the lawsuit as an attack on the town's gay and lesbian families.

"Loving, stable gay and lesbian families send their kids to school all over this state," said GLAD Executive Director Lee Swislow. "Those families and kids need to be acknowledged and respected by their teachers and school systems, in order for the kids to have a safe, supportive learning environment.

"We applaud Lexington schools for their principled and common sense approach to implementing a curriculum that reflects the diversity of families. We respect Lexington's decision to stand by their gay and lesbian families."

Swislow also stated that the lawsuit was a misapplication of the state's parental notification law. "The law applies to sex education, not acknowledging the existence of gay families," GLAD's executive director said.

Written by two Dutch women, King & King has sold about 15,000 copies in the United States since it was translated and published in 2002. A sequel, King, King and Family, about a royal same-sex family, was published two years later.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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