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Parents rip school over gay storybook

Lesson reignites clash in Lexington

In a controversy with a familiar ring, parents of a Lexington second-grader are protesting that their son's teacher read a fairy tale about gay marriage to the class without warning parents first.

The teacher at Joseph Estabrook Elementary School used the children's book, ''King & King," as part of a lesson about different types of weddings. A prince marries another prince instead of a princess in the book, which was on the American Library Association's list of the 10 most challenged books in 2004 because of its homosexual theme.

''My son is only 7 years old," said Lexington parent Robin Wirthlin, who complained to the school system last month and will meet with the superintendent next week. ''By presenting this kind of issue at such a young age, they're trying to indoctrinate our children. They're intentionally presenting this as a norm, and it's not a value that our family supports."

She complained more than a year after Lexington parent David Parker was arrested for trespassing, because he refused to leave the Estabrook school grounds until administrators allowed him to opt his son out of discussions about families with same-sex parents. The latest incident has renewed the efforts of Waltham-based Parents' Rights Coalition to rid the state's schools of books and lessons that relate to homosexuality, and led the school system to reemphasize its stance on teaching about gay marriage and related issues as part of larger lessons on diversity and tolerance.

Lexington Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash said Estabrook has no legal obligation to notify parents about the book. ''We couldn't run a public school system if every parent who feels some topic is objectionable to them for moral or religious reasons decides their child should be removed," he said. ''Lexington is committed to teaching children about the world they live in, and in Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal."

Ash, who became superintendent this school year, wrote a memo to parents in September defending the system's philosophy of teaching diversity. His memo, which clarified the state's parental notification law, stemmed from the controversy with Parker. Schools are required to notify parents of lessons on sex education and give them the right to opt out, but in Lexington, sex education doesn't begin until fifth grade, Ash said.

Parker had objected to a ''diversity book bag" that his son brought home from kindergarten. The bag included ''Who's in a Family?," a book that depicted same-sex couples along with other types of families.

In ''King & King," two princes kiss at the end of the book, which was first published in the Netherlands then translated into English and published by the Berkeley, Calif.-based Tricycle Press in 2002. The book was written for children ages 6 and older, the publisher said. Tricycle Press also published ''Who's in a Family?"

''Tricycle Press is proud to have published 'King & King' ," said Laura Mancuso, the company's marketing and publicity manager in an e-mail in response to questions from the Globe. ''It features an unconditional love that ignores conventional boundaries. There are many kinds of families in this country, and the children in these families and their friends deserve to see their situations in a positive light."

Mancuso said the publisher first received complaints about the book in 2004 when a North Carolina couple objected to their first-grade daughter bringing it home from the school library. Last year, an Oklahoma legislator used the book as an example of why children's library collections should have new restrictions. The Lexington teacher borrowed the book from the school library.

The two protests in Lexington illustrate the need for a broader parental notification law in the state, said Brian Camenker, president of the Parents' Rights Coalition. Camenker provided the language for a 1996 Massachusetts law that requires schools to notify parents of lessons on sex education and is pushing for the addition of sexual orientation to the topics requiring notification.

The pending bill would also require all parents to sign forms allowing their children to participate in such lessons instead of asking those who are offended to opt out, said Camenker, a Newton parent whose group is fighting same-sex marriage and opposes what it calls the ''homosexual agenda" in public schools. The Wirthins contacted his group for help in dealing with Lexington schools.

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com.

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