A parents' rights bill draws a crowd

March 09, 1995|By Jeff Jacoby

LAST WEEK'S ice storm delayed classes, closed offices and tied up roads all over eastern Massachusetts. But it didn't prevent scores of parents from thronging Hearing Room B-1 in the State House Tuesday morning. There, the legislature's Joint Education Committee was meeting to hear testimony on House Bill 1817, and nothing was going to keep these parents away.

H. 1817, the Parents' Rights Bill, is founded upon a simple principle: informed consent. It would 1) require public schools to notify parents in advance of "morally or religiously sensitive" programs; 2) allow interested parents to examine the curriculum; and 3) require parental consent before a child could attend.

The teachers unions have declared all-out war on this bill. "Anti-academic freedom!" barks the Massachusetts Teachers Association. "Would slam the door shut on teachers' ability to do their jobs!" But of course. That is what the MTA and the education bureaucrats always say about proposals to give parents more authority or choice.

Democratic State Sen. Marian Walsh of West Roxbury -- the daughter of one teacher and the sister of three others -- was moved to file this bill, along with Sen. Paul White, a Democrat from Dorchester, and Rep. Ed Teague, a Yarmouth Republican, after hearing from numerous parents who were being stiffed by their local school districts when they tried to find out what their kids were being taught.

"Either they would get the material late, or they would be denied it altogether," says Senator Walsh. "They would be totally shut out. All they want is notice in a timely way for certain sensitive subjects. They want to say what is appropriate for their children. I don't understand why the unions have a problem with that."

What a lot of parents don't understand is why the public schools, instead of focusing on English, math and history, work so hard to indoctrinate students with nontraditional attitudes about sex, morality and family life. Last Tuesday, upset parents from across the state described what was going on in their children's classrooms.

* "Homophobia Week" at Beverly High School featured guest lecturers from the Gay and Lesbian Speakers Bureau of Boston. Students heard presentations on homosexual marriage and on the rights of gays and lesbians to raise children. Beverly parents weren't notified in advance; the father of one 13-year-old found out when his child came home and announced: "Dad, I learned that you're a homophobe."

* At the Silver Lake High School in Kingston, the ninth-grade health text -- "The New Teenage Body Book" -- taught sexuality as a matter of trial-and-error and personal choice. Among its lessons: "How you choose to express your sexuality is very much to you." "Testing your ability to function sexually and to give pleasure to another person may be less threatening in the early teens with people of your own sex." "You may come to the conclusion that growing up means rejecting the values of your parents." Students were told to keep the book in their lockers and not take it home.

* On a quiz, seventh-graders in East Bridgewater had to answer true or false to such statements as: "Bigger penises give a woman more pleasure during sexual intercourse." "Boys like only girls with big breasts.""Some women can have a wet orgasm just the way men do." "A guy can't get a girl pregnant if he pulls out before he comes off."

* At Ashland's Mindess Middle School, children were assigned "gay" roles for a play on discrimination. Two boys had to pretend they were a homosexual couple seeking to adopt a child; one boy's line was, "It's natural to be attracted to the same sex." Two girls in the class were told to hold hands and act out the roles of lesbian partners. Parents learned of this only when their children mentioned it after the fact.

* In Brookline, first-graders at the Runkle School were "counseled" on the sex-change operation of a classmate's mother, who, they were told, was going to become a father. Except for the transsexual, who spent a great deal of time in the classroom, none of the other children's parents were told about the counseling beforehand.

Elsewhere in Brookline, Lawrence School eighth-graders were tested on the relative merits of various forms of birth control. Nineteen types were listed -- condoms, creams, foams, gels, sponge, suppository, diaphragm, cervical cap, pill, rhythm, withdrawal, tubal ligation, vasectomy, abortion, and "new methods." Abstinence? Didn't make the list.

Examples like these are legion, and in case after case after case, parents weren't told in advance.

In the most sensitive areas of their children's education, mothers and fathers are finding themselves pushed to the margins. That's what H. 1817 is meant to correct, and it's why so many parents would brave foul weather to speak up for it.

When it comes to the inculcation of moral, religious, or sexual values in children, parents are not an afterthought. They are in charge. Once that was understood by the public schools. Now, it seems, we need a new law to make it clear.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist.

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