BOSTON --Two couples who say Lexington school officials undermined their rights as parents by giving out and reading storybooks with gay themes without notification filed suit Thursday.
David and Tonia Parker and Joseph and Robin Wirthlin claim in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston that the officials broke state law and violated their civil rights. They claim the school is indoctrinating their children about a lifestyle they consider immoral.
"In this case, there's a huge conflict and a huge explosion and a huge collision," said their attorney Jeffrey Denner.
But school superintendent Paul Ash says the schools have no agenda and have done nothing illegal.
The suit names the town, Ash, school committee members, the director of education, an elementary school principal, a teacher and the coordinator of health. It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Last month, the Wirthlins objected when a teacher read a storybook about two princes who fall in love to their son's second grade class without notifying them.
Parker was jailed last year after he refused to leave a school when officials declined to exclude his 6-year-old son from discussions of gay parents. Parker initially complained after his son brought home a "diversity book bag" with a book that depicted a gay family.
Denner said homosexual relationships will inevitably come up in schools in a state where gay marriage is legal. But he said Lexington violated the rights of privacy and freedom of religion of his clients -- all identified as devout Christians in the lawsuit -- by unilaterally deciding how and when it will be taught.
Denner said the school is also ignoring a state requirement to notify parents when such topics are discussed so they can remove their children from class if they want.
Parker said it's not up to school administrators to decide when his child should hear about gay marriage or traditional marriage.
"Parents need to be the ones to determine when it is introduced and how it is introduced," he said.
Meg Soens, a lesbian and mother of four from Lexington, said the school is simply reflecting the fact that gay parents lead families in Lexington. Children from those families should see their families talked about in class and represented in books, just like everyone else, she said.
"The children need to feel safe and welcome, just like every other student should," she said.
Ash said he's confident the school hasn't broken any laws and said it isn't pushing any agenda.
"In Massachusetts, gays have equal rights," he said. "We have gay marriage. Our kids see it, it's part of our overall curriculum. We talking about what kids see in today's world."
The Wirthlins complained to school officials last month after a teacher at the Estabrook Elementary School read the book "King and King." They said school officials refused a request to inform them whenever the school presents material with homosexual themes.
"The reason why the defendants will not inform the Wirthlins is that the defendants' specific intention is to coercively indoctrinate the children into moral belief systems that are markedly different from those of their parents," the suit reads.
Joseph Wirthlin said his child is still attending the public schools.
"Unfortunately, we can't tell him to listen carefully to what your teacher says and believe everything she says," he said. "That shocks me."
The school has argued that state's "opt-out" law requires schools only to inform parents about class content when sex education or human sexuality is the primary focus.
Ash also said it would be impossible to notify parents every time such issues come up. In the Wirthlin case, for instance, a child chose the book for the teacher to read. It was not planned and no notice could have been given, Ash said.
Many people have different viewpoints on various topics in public schools, Ash said. If someone disagrees "does that mean they have a right to go to federal court and say, 'You can't teach it'?" he said.
Parker said certain sensitive topics need to be handled differently.
"There are boundaries of discussion that need to be defined," he said