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Education Justice

Brown co-leads support on Montgomery County school board opt-out policy

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) is helping to lead a coalition of attorneys general in an amicus brief to support the Montgomery County school board’s policy for students to participate in classroom discussions when books mention LGBTQ+ characters.

The brief, filed Tuesday, requests that the U.S. Fourth District Court of Appeals uphold a District Court judge’s decision made this summer denying Montgomery County families a preliminary injunction to immediately opt their children out of lessons and to require the school system to give them advance notice of when such a book was to be discussed.

“Our schools play a fundamental role in shaping the minds and hearts of the next generation, and it’s our duty to ensure that every child feels safe, supported, and valued,” Brown said in a statement. “Educational policies that promote respect for LGBTQ+ people will help build a more equitable future for all children.”

The attorneys general argue the county’s policy doesn’t violate Maryland law, doesn’t strip a parent’s religious freedom for their children and provides parents due process rights under the 14th Amendment.

In addition, courts have ruled public schools are obligated to educate all children.

“Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them,” according to the brief. “Whatever religious beliefs students or their families may hold, it cannot be constitutionally problematic to familiarize students with LGBTQ+ people, who exist and are an integral part of communities in every part of the country.”

Joining Brown to co-lead the argument is Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell (D).

The other attorneys general on the brief are from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, the state of Washington and Washington, D.C.

Another amicus brief filed this week in support of Montgomery County comes from several LGBTQ+ advocacy groups such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Human Rights Campaign Foundation and GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network).

That brief notes a March report from the U.S. Department of Education that stated “school climates that foster a sense of belonging and community not only provide a more supportive learning environment in which children learn to respect those who differ from them, but also report better test scores, graduation rates, student engagement, mental and physical health, and brain development.”

Meanwhile, the Montgomery County plaintiffs filed a reply Wednesday to urge the appeals court to revert to the policy that was set in the 2022-23 school year. The plaintiffs argue that opting out is allowed in every other jurisdiction.

The reply submitted by Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, contends that the school board allowing books with LGTBQ characters interferes with a parent’s religious beliefs and “violates their most sacred duty.”

“The Parents seek only to restore the opt-out rights already required by Maryland law and Board policy – rights still permitted for all instruction except the Pride Storybooks,” according to the plaintiffs. “The Parents’ pre-existing notice and opt-out rights should be restored.”


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Brown co-leads support on Montgomery County school board opt-out policy