Somali Muslim parents allowed to opt their kids out of LGBTQ curriculum in Minnesota public schools

The school district asserted that the opt-outs do not align with their values.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA
St. Louis Park Public Schools will allow parents and guardians to opt their children out of reading LGBTQ books after six Somali Muslim families threatened legal action against the district arguing religious freedom.

The Minnesota school district said that they do not agree with opt-outs but are required to comply due to state law. The parents are represented by the First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm focused on religious freedom, which sent multiple demand letters to the district, according to the Sahan-Journal.

In a statement announcing the opt-outs, St. Louis Park Public Schools wrote: "St. Louis Park Public Schools has always complied with the state law regarding parents’ statutory right to opt out of instructional materials, and we will continue to do so."

"However, district staff will not conduct that review on behalf of any families or attempt to determine what materials may be considered objectionable. Additionally, class discussions do not constitute instructional materials and are not subject to review or opt-outs," the statement continued.

The school district asserted that the opt-outs do not align with their values.

"Opt-outs based on representation of protected classes do not uphold our values of creating safe and inclusive learning and working environments in our schools. However, because it is required within state law, any change would need to happen with the involvement of state lawmakers," the district said.

Kayla Toney, an attorney for the First Liberty Institute who is representing the parents, told the Sahan-Journal: "We think this is a win for religious freedom for people of all faiths, without even having to go to court."

The First Liberty Institute, which has litigated multiple cases involving religious freedom before the US Supreme Court, was approached by the parents. On behalf of her clients, Toney wrote two demand letters to the district in November and December, asking that the schools provide their kids the option to not read these books and to be notified in advance of any conversations pertaining to LGBTQ+ topics," per the outlet.

The district's process for requesting alternate instruction was criticized in the December letter for being burdensome and invasive for immigrant families.

Parents who would like to review curricular materials are advised to get in touch with their child's teacher per the St. Louis Park Public Schools district policy. The materials are available for parents to borrow or study at school. However, Toney stated in her letter from December that parents should be informed in advance about the curriculum and class discussions. Toney went on, saying she would "proceed as our clients direct, likely pursuing all available legal remedies" unless the district gave this notice.

Maggie Wallner, the attorney for St. Louis Park Public Schools, confirmed that the district will permit parents to evaluate the curriculum and seek alternate instruction in an email sent in January to the First Liberty Institute. However, she also stated that the district will not alter its processes for reviewing curriculum.

"The District understands its obligation under Minnesota law to provide families an opportunity to review the content of instructional materials and pursue alternative instruction," wrote Wallner. "District staff does not and will not conduct a review on behalf of families or attempt to determine what materials may be considered objectionable."

Toney had received notification from all six of her clients in the last two weeks that their requests to opt out of LGBTQ+ books had been approved. Toney added that the middle school had even written down its promise to provide students advance warning of certain subjects, but she refused to release the letter due to concerns about minors' privacy.

"The fact that at least one of them is able to do it shows that any school should be able to provide advance notice," said Toney. "That’s our understanding of the law."

In October, educators at multiple elementary schools in St. Louis Park introduced books featuring LGBTQ+ characters, according to the outlet.

"My Shadow Is Pink," which was about a boy who enjoys donning dresses, "Our Subway Baby," which followed two fathers in adopting an infant, and "Ho'onani: Hula Warrior," which told the story of a young genderqueer Hawaiian child who aspires to lead a boys' hula troupe, were among these books. Parents stated that they had requested that two elementary school principals grant their children an exemption from reading these books, but both principals denied their requests.

The parents then voiced their concerns at the school board meeting on October 24.

Hodan Hassan, who has four children in the school district, told the outlet that she was pleased that her request to opt-out has been granted.

"We came to America for religious freedom in the Constitution, and so our kids will have a great opportunity," said Hassan. "By granting us and other families the opportunity to opt out of teaching that violates our deeply held religious beliefs, families are able to raise their children according to the principle that they value the most."
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