ACLU Applauds Ruling Affirming Importance of LGBTQ Representation in Maryland School District’s ELA Curriculum

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
May 15, 2024 4:00 pm

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RICHMOND, Va. — In a victory for inclusion and diversity in public education, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed that Montgomery County Public Schools may continue its policy of incorporating age-appropriate storybooks that reflect all families and identities, including books with LGBTQ+ characters, into its English and Language Arts (ELA) classes without offering parents the ability to opt out of the curriculum.

The case, filed by parents challenging the district’s policy on free speech, free exercise, and due process grounds, garnered national attention. The school district’s policy mandates the inclusion of literature with LGBTQ+ characters as part of the ELA curriculum, aiming to promote understanding and acceptance among students. Although the district originally allowed parents to opt their children out of some ELA lessons, it rescinded the opt-out policy because the number of requests grew too difficult to manage, student absenteeism soared, and it created a stigmatizing environment for students who are LGBTQ or have LGBTQ family members, undermining the purpose of the inclusivity requirement.

Despite the plaintiffs’ claims, the district court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction to block the policy. Today’s ruling by the Fourth Circuit affirmed this decision, emphasizing the fundamental principles of equality and representation in education.

“We’re talking about books like ‘Pride Puppy,’ which is light-hearted and affirming,” said Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland. “During a time of intensifying calls to ban books and limit access to information about LGBTQ+ people and identities, this ruling in support of inclusion in education matters.”

“The court recognized that incorporating diverse perspectives, including those relating to LGBTQ identities, into the curriculum does not violate students’ religious rights,” said Aditi Fruitwala, staff attorney with the ACLU Center for Liberty. “In fact, it is integral to fostering an inclusive society.”

In October 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Maryland filed an amicus brief in support of the school district, addressing the free exercise claim raised by the plaintiffs. The court’s ruling underscores that parents are not entitled to opt their children out of core curricular requirements because of religious objections.

Read the Fourth Circuit’s decision here: https://wp.api.aclu.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/Doc.-120-Mahmoud-Opinion.pdf

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