Arrested father had point to make
Disputed school's lesson on diversity
By Maria Cramer and Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff | April 29, 2005
CONCORD -- For David Parker, the first alarm went off in January, when his 5-year-old son came home from his kindergarten class at Lexington's Joseph Estabrook School with a bag of books promoting diversity.
Inside were books about foreign cultures and traditions, along with food recipes. There was also a copy of ''Who's In a Family?" by Robert Skutch, which depicts different kinds of families, including same-sex couples raising children.
The book's contents concerned Parker and prompted him to begin a series of e-mail exchanges with school officials on the subject that culminated in a meeting Wednesday night with Estabrook's principal and district director of instruction. The meeting ended with Parker's arrest after he refused to leave the school, and the Lexington man spent the night in jail.
Yesterday, Parker was arraigned in Concord District Court on one count of trespassing, and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. Bail was set at $1,000, and Parker was freed after being ordered to stay off Lexington school property. He is due back in court June 1.
Parker and his wife, Tonia, 34, who was also in court yesterday, said the dispute arose because they asked school officials to notify them about classroom discussions about same-sex marriage and what they called other adult themes. They also wanted the option to exclude their boy, now 6, from those talks.
Parker said he met with school officials to gain those assurances and then refused to leave until he got them. Parker stayed at Estabrook School for more than two hours, according to Superintendent William J. Hurley, as officials and Lexington police urged him to leave. Finally, they arrested him for trespassing.
Parker, who refused to bail himself out of jail Wednesday night, said he spent the night in custody to prove a point.
''I chose to stay, which I'm not sure was a wise move," he said. ''But I wanted to see how far they would go for asking something simple." Parker said he wanted to control ''the timing and manner" in which his son learned about ''adult themes."
''This is not about creating a forum for hate . . . for any segment of society," Parker said after his arraignment. ''I'm just trying to be a good dad."
Hurley did not return calls for comment yesterday. But in an April 27 letter to Parker, Hurley warned him to stay away from school property.
''If you are found on Lexington public schools' properties you will be subject to arrest by the Lexington police," Hurley wrote. ''Access to school properties can only be accomplished with prior written authorization from the superintendent of schools or his designee."
David Parker said he moved his family from New Jersey to Lexington last year after his employer relocated him. He acknowledged yesterday that he and his wife oppose same-sex unions, but they described themselves as Christians who do not advocate hatred.
''We're not intolerant," said Tonia Parker. ''We love all people. That is part of our faith."
A handful of supporters of the Parker family appeared at the courthouse yesterday, including Brian Camenker, director of Article 8 Alliance. The group, which opposes same-sex marriage, posted e-mail exchanges between the Parkers and school officials on the matter on its website. Camenker said Parker contacted him in January.
The case drew interest across the state yesterday.
Governor Mitt Romney, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said: ''Schools under our parental-notification law are required to inform parents . . . of matters relating to human sexuality that may be taught in the classroom and to allow that child to be out of the classroom for that period of the education."
Romney said he supports parents' right to know, though he declined to speak specifically about the Parker case.
Thomas B. Griffiths, Lexington School Committee chairman, said parents of older students are notified in advance when sex education will be taught.
''We don't view telling a child that there is a family out there with two mommies as teaching about homosexuality, heterosexuality, or any kind of sexuality," he said. ''We are teaching about the realities of where different children come from."
The bag of books promoting diversity is sent home with one student at a time, said Rachel F. Cortez, copresident of the Estabrook parent-teacher association and a member of the school's Anti-Bias Committee.
Parents received notice about the book bag at the beginning of the year and the date that it was scheduled to be sent home with their child. The bag's contents also were put on display at a back-to-school night earlier in the school year, she said, and parents are not required to have their child bring it home.
''The kids don't have to take them [the materials] home," she said. ''Parents can either opt out entirely or use whatever materials they want."
Tonia Parker said yesterday she attended back-to-school night, but was not told about the bag or its contents.
David Parker said the topic of Wednesday's meeting was not about the book bag, but about concerns that his son could be exposed to more books and lessons about ''gay-headed" households.
''We're not giving unfettered access to the psyche of our son when he enters the school," said Tonia Parker.