A Ludlow, Massachusetts mother says parents in her school district are committed to fighting for their parental rights to oversee what their children are being exposed to at school.
Bella Soares told The Star News Network she became involved in the parents’ battle with Ludlow Public Schools officials over the issue of school library books the parents believe to be inappropriate for their children.
“It’s like they’re grooming these children, and they’re telling these children not to inform your parents on what goes on in school, and we are not okay with that,” she asserted.
As The Star News Network reported, several parents in Ludlow filed a federal lawsuit last week that alleges school officials secretly encouraged children’s gender transition by allowing them to change their names and pronouns, and violated their parental rights by making the decision not to inform them about issues related to their children’s health.
The lawsuit claims former superintendent of Ludlow Public Schools Todd Gazda referred to opposition to clandestine gender transitions as “intolerance of LGBTQ people” that was disguised as concerns about “parental rights.”
“For many students school is their only safe place, and that safety evaporates when they leave the confines of our buildings,” Gazda said, according to the lawsuit.
Asked if children have told their parents that teachers have instructed them not to inform them about activities at school, Soares, who is not among the parents who filed the lawsuit, responded, “Yes, children who have already graduated by this time, but were in that school when all this was going on.”
“But, now, they have the, you know, the courage to tell their parents, whereas before they didn’t,” she said. “They were scared.”
Soares said her group of parents began attending all the Ludlow school board meetings before the pandemic-related lockdowns in 2020.
“We were trying to get these books either removed from the library, or put in a section where you need to get permission from the parents,” she explained. “And, of course, we were denied by our superintendent, Todd Gazda, at the time, who defamed us parents and called us liars. Because that’s just how he was.”
Soares said her group showed Gazda “one of the worst books called Sex Is a Funny Word,” by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth, considered appropriate for children in grades 2-6.
In an editorial review of the book at Amazon.com, Clara Hendricks, at Cambridge Public Library, wrote:
What makes this volume exceptional is its introduction of the subjects of transgender identity, intersex conditions, and masturbation. The quality text is enhanced and brought to life by comics drawn with bold lines on bright, full-bleed pages.
“Sex Is a Funny Word opens a portal to a world where gender is exactly what we say it is rather than simply the sum of our ‘middle parts,’” Aidan Key, founder of the Gender Odyssey Conference, also wrote. “Silverberg provides the template for all of us to see the simplicity with which we can step out of today’s binary gender paradigm.”
Soares said her parents’ group discovered that those individuals in the district who are on the review team for books approved that selection.
“So, when they approve a book, it goes back on the shelf for three years and you cannot hand in that book again for review,” she explained. “So, here’s another policy that we’ve also been trying to change, like, it shouldn’t be three years for you to have that book reviewed again.”
In February 2020, Gazda told MassLive about parents’ outrage over Sex Is a Funny Word:
There are illustrations, for instance of a penis and a vagina, which are anatomically correct … but there are also discussions about negative, private touching, which is a very important lesson these kids should learn … The librarian can’t read every single book in the library. They rely on reviews and recommendations.
MassLive, in fact, observed that Sex Is a Funny Word “has won awards in the U.S. and Canada and praise in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the School Library Journal.”
Soares said one parent from her group found her daughter took a book from the library in the junior high called Cut.
“And it literally taught you how to cut yourself, and her daughter started cutting herself,” she said.
Cut is another authentic-sounding novel in which elective mutism plays a part, this time with humor making the pain of adolescence gone awry more bearable … an exceptional character study of a young woman and her hospital mates who struggle with demons so severe that only their bodies can confess.
The American Library Association also promotes Drag Queen Story Hours for very young children. In response to a backlash about the story hours, ALA stated:
ALA, through its actions and those of its members, is instrumental in creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society. This includes a commitment to combating marginalization and underrepresentation within the communities served by libraries through increased understanding of the effects of historical exclusion.
Asked if her parents’ group discovered how these types of books got onto the school library shelves, Soares said the former Baird Middle School librarian, Jordan Funk, who is named in the lawsuit, “brought 133 books into our school when she was hired as the librarian.”
“So, you have books, like LGBTQ books, you have that book called Cut, there’s a book that’s called Crank, which talks about a girl who does all of these drugs with her father and gets raped multiple times by different men,” Soares continued.
“I have this other book in front of me right now called Looking for Alaska,” she said, describing one section “that literally states a girl giving oral to a man.”
“Word by word, movement, everything – that’s that book,” Soares continued. “There’s this other book called Will Grayson. This is another sexual book that is still in our library.”
The Ludlow parent said her group battled against the presence of the book Gender Queer in the library, back in 2015, and the book, she said, was removed.
The Associated Press noted in September that Gender Queer, which “contains explicit illustrations of oral sex and masturbation,” and that the novel Lawn Boy, which contains graphic descriptions of sex between men and children, were both winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, a title bestowed on “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”
“But there’s a workbook called Gender Quest,” Soares also noted. “That’s still in the junior high library.”
In the federal lawsuit recently filed, the parents allege that Funke “instructed incoming sixth grade students at Baird Middle School to create videos and to include in the videos their gender identity and preferred pronouns.”
Soares has since removed her own daughter from Ludlow Public Schools and is now homeschooling. She remains very involved, however, and says she is “fighting for the parents who are scared and don’t have a voice because they feel that their children are going to be targeted at school.”
She said school officials keep calling parents who view the books as inappropriate for school libraries “homophobic”:
That’s not what it is. We’re not homophobic. We don’t care if you’re a lesbian, if you’re gay, you’re transgender. We are absolutely fine with that. I mean, we’re gonna love each other no matter what you want to be. The issue is you integrating your curriculum onto our children, and you’re trying to do it behind our backs.
“We’re the parent, we have parental rights, and they’re trying to take parental rights from us, and that’s what we’re fighting for,” she asserted.
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]