Attorneys General Side With Parental Rights Over Maryland School Board

Morgan Sweeney | October 20, 2023

(The Center Square) — Leading a group of 23 attorneys general, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares filed an amicus brief on Wednesday on behalf of the plaintiffs in Mahmoud v. McKnight, a lawsuit involving Maryland parents and the Montgomery County School Board. 

Along with over 30 other states, Maryland law includes an opt-out provision that allows parents to excuse their children from sex education courses or lectures. About half the states require parents to be notified when their children will receive sex education, including Maryland.

However, the Montgomery County School Board announced in March 2023 that parents would not be allowed to recuse their children from classes where “LGBTQ+ inclusive” books would be shared with students, nor would they be notified of when this would occur. 

The school board last year invested in a series of 22 LGBTQ+ inclusive books to be used in the education of pre-kindergarten and elementary school students. These books “portray elementary school age children falling in love with other children, regardless of sexual preferences,” according to the brief. They also include terms like “intersex flag,” “[drag] king,” “platform shoes,” “lip ring” and “leather” among word lists children can match to images, according to religious liberties law firm Becket. 

“The School Board’s own elementary school principals objected given the explicit nature of the storybooks’ content coupled with the young age of the children involved,” according to the brief.

Parents of multiple faiths sued the school, with Becket as their representation, arguing that it was their right to be notified and opt out their children on religious grounds.

Becket filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Maryland in May. The court ruled against the parents in August. They appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals a few days later.

Miyares urges the Fourth Circuit Court in the amicus brief to reverse the lower court’s decision in the amicus brief because, he argues, the school board’s actions have violated both Maryland and federal law.

Montgomery County Public Schools holds that Maryland law allows students to opt out of only the specific “Family Life and Human Sexuality Unit of Instruction,” not other instruction.

But because the Code of Maryland’s opt-out provision says it applies to “instruction related to family life and human sexuality objectives,” Miyares asserts that the provision covers the topics of “family life” and “human sexuality objectives” whenever they’re taught, including in Pride Storybooks.

Miyares also cites Supreme Court cases that speak to parents’ “right… to direct the education and upbringing on one’s children.”

A statement MCPS released in August suggests that the school system considers inclusivity a fundamental and necessary part of education that cannot be optional for students. 

Miyares also contends that the board’s actions do not stand up under the “strict scrutiny test,” a test that is applied to governmental bodies in cases where plaintiffs say the government is infringing on their First Amendment rights.

The Center Square reached out to MCPS for further comment but has yet to hear back in time for publication.