Angry Crowd Confronts School Board about a Drag Queen Story Hour and the New Sex Ed Curriculum
By Barbara A. Preston | June 17, 2022
One sobbed. Another yelled "perverts" at the Montgomery Township School Board members on Tuesday, June 14. Others in the crowd demanded to know what, exactly, did a Drag Queen named Harmonica Sunbeam read to Montgomery elementary school students during a Gay Pride after-school event.
The Montgomery Township Education Association (MTEA) sponsored the optional extracurricular activity for students, grades K-4, and their parents. However, about 12 unexpected adult guests showed up at story time, and assembled outside Montgomery's Village Elementary School (VES), where the in-person event was held on Monday, June 13, from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Police were called to the scene to keep the peace.
Village Elementary School (VES) has about 660 students in grades 3-4. Parents were able to signup their children online to attend either the in-person or the virtual story hour. For those who attended in person, the police did have to escort at least one of the parents and their children to their car in the parking lot once the event ended.
Jeffrey E. Grant of Belle Mead, a leader of the Central Jersey Conservative Union, was one of the 12 adults who stood outside VES, trying to get in to the event. He and about 40 concerned Montgomery community members attended the regularly scheduled school board meeting on June 14. They flooded the public comment session.
"I have a number of questions," Grant told the Montgomery School Board. He explained that he wanted to attend the Harmonia Sunbeam event in person. He had registered, but event organizers sent him an email the day of the event stating that he could not attend because he did not have a child in elementary school. Grant says he did not see the email until after the event.
"So I showed up, and wanted to understand what was happening," he said. "I was met with resistance from the registration folks. ... I articulated my reason for being there ... as I plan on running for school board next year and I want to understand what is happening with the Montgomery school system and the Montgomery teachers association.
"I was rebuffed repeatedly by the welcome desk. ... I wound up talking to (Montgomery Police) Officer Kent. I made a plea for him to please go in and to let folks know that I am here to observe, not to be disruptive. ... I was told not to worry ... that I could see it all online tomorrow."
Photo caption: Jeffrey Grant kicks off the public comment session at the Montgomery Township School Board meeting on Tuesday night. Photos by Barbara A. Preston.
To make a long story short, Grant said he was denied assess to the virtual event as well, due to a lack of Zoom capacity to accommodate a community-wide event, and for the safety of the attendees. He said these were fake excuses. He demanded a slew of information about laws, and the MTEA, who authorized the drag queen story hour.
John Muentener, a bus mechanic employed by the Montgomery BOE since 2010 and a 1997 graduate of MHS according to LinkedIn, spoke at the meeting.
The public comments quickly segued into a tirade against to Gov Phil Murphy's new LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum requirement, which is set to take full effect in September. Murphy in 2019 signed a law that requires the state public schools to implement an LGBTQ curriculum for students in grades five through 12.
A highlight of the evening was when Joanna Filak of Skillman took to the podium to discuss "one of the textbooks proposed to be used for this curriculum."
"It's meant for 10 years and older and it basically covers subjects that are part of that curriculum, and it’s full of explicit pictures so kids would definitely learn," she said with a smile. She distributed photocopies of a book titled It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley. The book shows images of naked people, some engaged in sexual acts and one masturbating. "Those images are not appropriate," Filak said.
Another speaker, Janine M. Maslyn, went into graphic details about sexual acts described in the book — not suitable to publish in a family newspaper or website. She ended her comments by asking about the "homework," and whether the students would get to practice after school.
At one point, parent Ania Wolecka-Jernigan of Belle Mead, who frequently speaks at school board meetings, suggested the school board, "Skip the anal sex and get back to teaching cursive writing so that students would be able to read the Declaration of Independence in its original form."
Photo caption: Superintendent Mary E. McLoughlin holds up a handout that one of the speakers distributed during the meeting.
School officials and board members assured the crowd that teachers will not be teaching students to masturbate, or how to perform sexual acts. In fact, the book widely discussed by the speakers at the school board meeting is not even part of the Montgomery school district curriculum.
This book is not affiliated with the school district at all. I want to make this clear. This correspondence that was passed around, spoken about, and read out loud is nothing that we have here. — Superintendent McLoughlin.
School Board President Zelda Spence-Wallace reinforced that the book titled It's Perfectly Normal, will not ever be used in the Montgomery School District.
In Defense of the Drag Queen Story Hour for Children
Skillman resident Staci Anderson, a teacher at Montgomery Upper Middle School and a parent with three children in the Montgomery public schools, spoke in support of the Drag Queen Story Hour.
"The MTEA held two events that received a lot of very ugly responses," she told the board. "I want to thank the ... board, the Montgomery Police department, the district administration, and my fellow MTEA members for all they did to support this opportunity to celebrate our differences and our diversity."
"The message presented was ‘be who you are,’ and the atmosphere of positivity and hope and compassion ... show the collaboration and support that is our district, which is an inclusive and affirming place for all."
She quoted from a book that was given free to all attendees : "To know that we matter; to show that we exist; and that any oppression, we must always resist. As I close my eyes, I thought of prides past; pride means to me, being yourself is a blast. So tomorrow I will march with my family and cheer: Happy pride to all; It's great my family is here."
She received a lot of applause from about 20 people who attended the meeting in support of the new LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum requirement and how the Montgomery school is handling the mandate.
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School Board Asked to Opt Out of the LGBTQ Curriculum
Many in the audience asked the school board to opt out of the new curriculum, most citing that parents have dominion over their children.
Zina Al-Jabary, a parent who has children in Montgomery's elementary schools, told that board that, when it comes to "sexual education, I want to be able to teach my children," she said. "I know what is age appropriate for my children."
Montgomery resident Karen Anderson, agreed with Al-Jabary. "Today, we the parents, are in a fight to maintain that dominion," she told the board, "You are planting seeds, and trying to reform our children's minds, hearts and souls, without parents' permission."
Anderson also asked why the Montgomery High School administration would allow a "Reproductive Rights Walk Out" on May 18. "Who initiated the event?," she asked the board. "I was told it was student-led. ... it was an externally orchestrated attempt to sway our children into thinking abortion is a quick and easy solution to a problem, without providing the other side of the story. It was completely one sided, as far as what was presented at Montgomery's Cougar Stadium that day."
Anderson claimed that outside speakers attended the event. The school board and MHS principal responded that this was false information. All the attendees were in fact current Montgomery students or employees of the school who attended to ensure safety.
Charles Horn of Montgomery Township summed up that Montgomery residents want to see the final curriculum with the books that will be used in Montgomery school. He told the board: "If you think these parents are going to no longer come to these meetings, then you have another think coming."
He attributed the problems to "Marxist communism that is permeating our society."
Superintendent McLoughlin informed the parents and audience members that the school district will be drafting the sex education curriculum over the summer months.
Board president Spence-Wallace said in an interview with The Montgomery News that the school district is working on developing four "Listening Sessions" for parents that would offered online over the summer months. One would address the Health and Physical Education curriculum.
Parents May Opt Out at Any Time
Parent’s Statement of Conflict with Conscience: The New Jersey Department of Education recognizes and respects that some families prefer to have these conversations privately. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:35-4.7, any child whose parent or guardian presents to the school a signed statement that any part of instruction in health, family life education, or sex education is in conflict with his or her conscience or sincerely held moral or religious beliefs shall be excused from that portion of the course. Parents and guardians seeking to exercise this option should contact their local school principal directly.
Watch the meeting online for the full details. Warning — the meeting is more than four hours long.