Dear Mrs. Kramer and Ms. Jay,
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our concerns and agree upon actions to be taken about the book that was read in Mrs. Kramerís class. Rather than just help us feel better about what has happened, we are looking for some resolution. We appreciate the serioussness that you have given the matter as it underscores the seriousness of the issue at hand.. We appreciate your offer to communicate with you further regarding this or any other concern we have as parents of children attending Estabrook.
Upon further reflection of our discussion, we do not feel completely assuaged and have some additional questions and observations. We have written and included our recollection of what transpired in the meeting and the actions or positions that were agreed to. These will be clearly marked as "Additional questions" or "Additional Observation" interspersed in our record of the meeting. We look forward to your response.
- The "sequel" to the book is also not appropriate. Fairy Tale or not, it discusses child abductions while the "Kings" seek to adopt children. Both books will be reviewed for "age appropriateness". The Wirthlins feel these books do not "discuss or recognize family experiences" appropriate to childrenís ages, do not lend themselves to the district goals of respecting diversity, and should be removed from the classrooms and school library immediately.
- Mr. and Mrs. Wirthlin asked for prior notification and the option for their children to be excused ("opted-out") from any teacher-initiated discussion, activity, or material that has themes of same-gender love, human sexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism, etc., without their written consent. Reasonable accommodation of this request is sought.
- Mr. and Mrs. Wirthlin do not want anything that is NOT part of the curriculum to be in the classroom or read to their son. It is a waste of school-time to be diverted from the school curriculum, especially to be reading something regarding a highly-charged social issue.
- The school will not assure the parents that a similar situation will not happen again.
- The school principal is going to review the book selection process and determine how and why these particular books were brought into the school. She will notify us of her findings and what actions have been taken to prevent this from happening again.
- The school principal has never before considered notifying parents of children in an affected classroom but will "ask her boss" about the process of notifying parents post facto regarding similar situations or violations of Section 32A, particularly in regards to this situation. She will inform Mr. and Mrs. Wirthlin of her findings.
- The school principal acknowledged the shaky legal ground the district is on regarding their interpretation of Section 32A.
April 6, 2006
Time: Approximately 3-4:20 p.m.
Attendance: Ms. Jay, Mrs. Kramer, Mrs. Wirthlin, Mr. Wirthlin
Ms. Jay and Mr. Wirthlin took handwritten notes.
Mrs. Wirthlin: We love Mrs. Kramer, we think that you ( Mrs Kramer) are a great teacher. Our son has learned a lot, We think that you are smart, literate, and a great educator. Weíre just not happy about this particular situation in the classroom.
We also didnít want to be unethical and blindside you by going to the principal without talking to you first. We didnít want to "get you in trouble" by going above your head to the principal. We intended to work this out, face to face by talking to you about our son in your classroom.
Mr. Wirthlin: the military chain of command comes to mind
Mrs. Jay: Oh, yes, you said that well.
Mr. Wirthlin: Honestly, Ms Jay, we were a bit taken aback by your phone call yesterday insinuating that we may be bringing others with us to this meeting. We came to talk to our sonís teacher about what had happened in the classroom, and hopefully get some assurances and resolution. We had no other purpose or motivation. Your phone call made us wonder what is going on and motivated us to actually put some of our thoughts and concerns on paper to make sure that we didnít forget anything. The phone call was quite intimidating.
Ms. Jay: I apologize. That was not my intent. I only wanted to know what the desired outcome was.
Mrs. Wirthlin: Your phone call felt insulting and questioned my integrity and suggested I had ulterior motives.
Ms. Jay: Again, Iím sorry. I just have a responsibility to the school and I need to make sure I understand what is going on.
Mr. Wirthlin: So, where do we begin?
Ms. Jay: First of all, we want to give you an opportunity to explain your concerns and what you would like to see happen before we take the time to respond.
[She took copious notes regarding what we talked about.]
[We began by reiterating that we are who we are. We expect our children to be kind to all people and we donít tolerate name-calling or any kind of put-downs.]
Mrs. Wirthlin: First of all, let me tell you, we donít tolerate "put-downs" of any kind. I have experienced put-downs and discrimination all of my life. My childhood and life experiences have taught me how painful "put-downs" are, and we donít tolerate name calling or "put-downs" in our home, about anyone, at any time, regardless of their personal life situation. We teach kindness and tolerance without qualification of a personís actions or lifestyles. Our concerns are not about different types of families, or adults and the choices they make or how they choose to live, rather, we are concerned about the theme presented and the message left with the children.
We feel that this book, "King and King" is inappropriate, and that the theme of the book, homosexuality is too young for 2nd graders.
The children thought that the book was funny, why? Was it because the prince didnít like the girl with glasses and braces? Because he didnít like the black girl with long arms? Because he felt romantic love for another man? Or was it because children know that men and women get married, and they thought it was funny because it seemed unnatural to them?
We cannot present our familyís point of view to our children if we do not know that you are teaching homosexual themes.
We have not introduced this theme to our 7 or 8 year old. We feel that they are too young for this. This is outside the realm of their thinking. This type of a theme would never occur to them. What is your purpose in introducing it to second graders?
We have not sat our children down and said, "do you know what a lesbian is? Do you know what a gay person is? Do you know what homosexuality is?"
This is a highly charged social issue, why are you introducing it in second grade?
We feel that this is inappropriate for second grade, and we want our child to be able to be excused when this theme is taught or discussed.
[Ms. Jay said that human sexuality is not taught in elementary school. The fifth graders have a class about puberty, there is nothing about sex in the program.]
Mrs. Wirthlin: You have introduced this concept to children at a very young age. Good readers infer things from the illustrations, the book shows two men kissing, is that what you are trying to teach?
No response given.
Mrs. Kramer: The theme was weddings, I chose that book because it dealt with the topic of weddings, gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, and I was trying to present books offering different points of view. I thought that it was a light, picture book that the children would enjoy.
Mr. Wirthlin: Why not read books about weddings in India,or weddings of Inupiat Indians?
Mrs. Wirthlin: I pointed out that readers identify with the protagonist, they want him to win, to succeed. They feel ethos and pathos for the protagonist. The protagonist in this story is the prince, so naturally the children were identifying with him,
In Germany, before WWII, they indoctrinated children by placing propaganda into textbooks. What type of message are you trying to portray by having this type of theme taught and read in the classroom? Herman Goering said that "if you tell the people something enough times, they will believe it." Are you trying to indoctrinate the children?
You said that this was not part of the curriculum, why is it in the classroom?
Ms. Jay: Because Mrs. Kramer chose it to go along with the "theme of weddings". She checked it out from the school library.
Ms Jay: The district is reviewing this book and itís appropriateness for second grade
[Ms. Jayís first responded to our concerns by reviewing her notes with us.]
Ms Jay: There is no standard curriculum to talk about families in the second grade. It is in the Kindergarten curriculum.
So, you want to be notified when books about families are read?
Wirthlins: That is not our issue. We recognize that all types of families exist in this community, and that is a fact of life.
Mrs. Wirthlin: We want to be notified when issues of human sexuality, homosexuality and transgenderism are going to be discussed, or the topic of lesbians, gays or same gender love is introduced, discussed so that we can teach our children what our personal family believes in regards to this issue.
We also want our children to be excused from the classroom during teaching or discussions about homosexuality. They can go to the library, they can go to the office and file papers, or make copies, or clean the school for that matter. Our family is very service oriented, and they would be happy to perform service while they are out of the classroom.
This book has crossed the line, it is NOT about children with gay parents. There is nothing in it that can be construed to fit that definition. It is inappropriate for children. We donít want it to be read again.
It was also discussed how the Lexington Public library has 59 childrens books about weddings. This book was not listed in the libraryís search engine under the topic of
"Weddings" It was listed under "Homosexuality-Juvenile Fiction"
Ms. Jay: Personally, I think that it is a stupid book. It was stupid to have had it in the classroom. Ms. Kramer and I have discussed this and we may disagree about it, but I think it is stupid.
Mrs. Kramer: The intent of the activity was not to upset people. She wanted to be inclusive, especially for children with gay friends and/or gay relatives. She selected the books to be brought into the classroom library for the weekís theme. Sheís not planning to read any more "books like this" to the class.
Sometimes situations arise, like the bathroom sign-out sheet where someone wrote "is gay"after a childís name. I addressed that as a put-down situation and when a child asked, "what does gay mean?", so I told them.
Mrs. Wirthlin: "Why not tell the children to go home and ask their parents?"
Ms. Jay: We donít want to make a big deal of issues, we donít want to dwell on them, we want to answer the childrenís questions.
Mr. Wirthlin: What is the book selection process? How can I learn more about it?
Ms Jay: It is available on the district web site. It is an old policyó1984, there is a new one, but it is not official yet.
The district is reviewing the process by which books are placed in the school library and in classrooms and the age appropriateness of the book "King and King" is being reviewed.
Jen Kuhn is the school librarian and she selects the books.
[Once again, we stated that we want to be notified when themes of homosexuality or human sexuality are presented, and we want our children to be excused from the presentations and discussions.
On this point, with no agreement to what we desired, they handed us a copy of the Press Release from Dr. Ash regarding the implementation of Section 32A in Lexington Public Schools.
The Wirthlinís read through the policy.]
Mrs. Wirthlin: As I read through it, I noted the use of the word, "diversity". I asked, does this "diversity" mean that it refers to only about homosexual issues, gay and lesbian people?
Mrs. Jay: No, it also pertains to socioeconomic diversity, race diversity, etc
Mrs. Wirthlin: Have I misunderstood the goal of the school's Anti-Bias committee? (Of which I am a member) Is it being driven by only the homosexual issue? At this point, it seems to be their main focus. What other aspects of diversity are focused on?
Ms. Jay indicated that the momentum of the Anti-Bias committee is driven by the particular members of the committee, and their concerns, but they encourage a diverse group to be on the committee. They also sponsor activities such as International Games Day and International Potluck.]
Mrs. Wirthlin: What does "activities" mean?
Mrs Jay: They donít want sex being discussed in elementary school. The policy mainly pertains to the middle and high schools in regards to "activities and materials"
Mrs. Wirthlin: We are not talking about the upper grades, we are talking about elementary school, and OUR children.
Mr. Wirthlin: You understand that only the courts can render a final interpretation of the law and that the policy as defined by Lexington is on shaky legal ground? This particular book seems to have crossed the line with respect to appropriateness for childrenís ages, respecting other kinds of diversity (racial and physical differences), and was NOT part of the curriculum.
[There was no voiced disagreement to the above.]
Mr. Wirthlin: What are our options? What can the school agree to?
Ms. Jay: (1.) The school can let us know what books are in the library. (2.) You canít opt your children out.
Mr. Wirthlin: What about conversations that children engage in on their own and a teacher intervenes? What does the school do?
Ms. Jay: If sex is a topic, sex of any kind, the principal will stop discussions and tell them they need to go home and talk about this with your parents. If the discussion is about children arguing about issues like "two men canít get married", the teacher can intervene, state the facts, "yes, they can in Massachusetts".
Ms. Jay: You are welcome to check the schoolís library, see all of the books in there.
A teacher may check out a book from the schoolís library and use it in the classroom.
Mr. Wirthlin: How are books brought into the school? Who pays for them? What is done? Because of whatís happened, Iím very interested and I feel like I now have to bbe engaged in this process.
Ms. Jay: there are two ways:
the Regular budget (which isnít much this year).
the Lexington Education Fund via grants.
Mrs. Wirthlin: Why is this book in the school library?
Is there a "special interest group" that is driving this? Has GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) come in with a box of books and said, "We want these books in your school?"
Ms. Jay: Ms. Jay said that doesnít know about every book that comes into the school, she vetoes books all the time that are brought in by people who want their books in the school.
The school does not solicit books, except those that are on the librarianís list. However, the librarian must use the "Book Selection" process to put them on the list.
Mr. Wirthlin: Will you notify other parents of children in this class about the book that has been read, so that they are able to present their familyís point view?
Ms. Jay: Iíve never considered that, I will have to think about it, talk to my boss about it.
Mr. Wirthlin: Will you get back to us with an answer?
Ms. Jay: Yes.
Mr. Wirthlin: What about other situations, that also could happen with other students? If their parents come in with an objection or concern, how will we or the other parents know about it?
Ms Jay: The school doesnít plan on communicating to parents if something does or does not happen. But I do note patterns of concerns.
Mrs. Wirthlin: Is it within reason to know what books are in the classroom and being read to the children?
Ms. Jay: So, you want to know when books about families are read and discussed in the classroom?
Mrs. Wirthlin: We want to know what books are in the classroom with homosexual themes. What are the books that talk about "same gender parents"?
["Additional Observation: Clarification is required to Mrs. Wirthlinís response. She does not object to "books about families". Ms. Jay seemed to come back to the idea of "books about families" several times. The issue is larger than that. The Wirthlinís objections are to books, discussions, activities that introduce romantic love in a manner that portray the activity as "good" or "acceptable" without having the opportunity as parents to provide context and moral instruction to their own children regarding the Wirthlinís family values, which include kindness, tolerance, and respect for others. We also object to material being introduced to children at an age that is not appropriate for them. The idea of teaching Advanced Calculus to elementary school children is absurd Ė the topic of "weddings" and in particular, the themes advanced by this book, is equally absurd for 2nd grade children."]
Ms. Jay: Yes. There are no books about same gender parents in this classroom that Mrs. Kramer knows of, she will go through all of the books again to find out if there are any in the classroom. You are welcome to read all of the books in the schoolís library
Mr. Wirthlin: What assurances do we have regarding similar situations? We just want to know what is going on in the classroom.
Ms. Jay: This book was not a part of the curriculum. You may examine and look at all of the books in the school. These topics will come up in conversation. We will not guarantee that something like this will not come up again in the future.
[Ms. Jay said that gay marriage is probably the most highly charged issue in the United States of America.]
Mr. Wirthlin: I expect to have additional meetings regarding this topic, especially as we work toward resolution of the issues.
The meeting ended cordially, but with no apparent conclusion. Ms. Jay and Mrs. Kramer said that they both had to leave for other appointments.
Please let us know if you disagree with anything in this summary. We look forward to your response, and the answers to our questions.
J. Robert Wirthlin
Robin O. Wirthlin