St. Louis Park Public Schools was slapped with two demand letters in recent months

USA: Minnesota public school allows Somali Muslim families to opt out of LGBT curriculum

Christian Post (15.02.2024) – A Minnesota public school district is allowing six Somali Muslim families to opt of its curriculum material that affirms LGBTQ behavior after attorneys at two law firms fired off demand letters last year.First Liberty Institute and True North Legal announced earlier this week that St. Louis Park Public Schools (SLP) near Minneapolis is now not only permitting elementary school students to opt out of such material, but also students in the district’s middle and high school, according to a press release.

The two firms were representing six Muslim families who had immigrated to the U.S. from war-torn Somalia within the past 20 years, according to First Liberty. The parents wanted to know when their children would be encountering material that touched on sexuality, and LGBTQ sexuality in particular.

Fatuma Irshat, one of the mothers involved in the case, said her family believes “that we have a sacred obligation to teach the principles of our faith to our children without being undermined by the schools.”

Hodan Hassan, another parent, said her family “came to America because of its rich heritage of protecting religious liberty and the opportunity to raise our children in a place where they have access to success.”

“We were shocked that our children were being taught material that violates our beliefs, but we’re grateful that the school has granted our opt-out requests,” Hassan added.

Kayla Toney, associate counsel at First Liberty Institute, told The Christian Post that the attorneys sent the district their first demand letter in November and another in December asking it to grant the parents’ opt-out requests, which they claim were at first denied.

The second letter sent to the district took issue with its “Alternative Learning Procedure,” which was created in response to parental concerns, but which attorneys argued exhibited “burdensome prerequisites inconsistent” with state law and exposed families to unnecessary scrutiny.

“[We explained] how the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protects parents’ right to raise their children according to their sincerely held religious beliefs without being undermined by the school,” Toney said. “And we also explained how Minnesota has a state law that guarantees parents the ability to review curriculum and then to request alternative learning if there’s something that they are concerned about.”

“And so, thanks to our demand letters and advocacy there, we were able to get a win for the clients without needing to go to court,” she added.

Toney told CP that what was at stake with the case was nothing less than the right of parents “to know about what their kids are learning in school.”

“And when that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, do they have a right to opt their children out of that teaching?” she asked.

“I think the big takeaway here is that diversity and inclusion need to extend to religious families, too,” she said. “That’s why the First Amendment specifically protects religious exercise. And with all the focus on inclusion, it’s important to recognize who we’re excluding as a result of that.”

“And so here, opt-outs are a great, peaceful, pluralistic way to give a chance for everyone to be included and to make sure that no one’s beliefs are being trampled upon. And so that’s really been our goal from the beginning,” she added.

Following news stories on the case, SLP Interim Superintendent Dr. Kate Maguire released a statement Tuesday emphasizing the district’s commitment to “upholding inclusivity in SLP curriculum” while noting that state law mandates them to accommodate families who wish to opt out.

Maguire wrote that the district is “committed to ensuring that the district’s learning communities honor and respect the identities of all of our students, families, staff and broader community, including diverse gender identity and gender expression.”

The school “has always complied with the state law regarding parents’ statutory right to opt out of instructional materials, and we will continue to do so,” Maguire continued, adding that “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 superintendent added.

Toney noted that parents being allowed to opt their children out of objectionable curriculum materials has become a hot-button issue nationwide. She pinpointed the similar case of Mahmoud v. McKnight, a lawsuit that emerged last year amid a similar situation in Montgomery County, Maryland.

An interfaith group of parents claimed in August 2023 they were not allowed to opt their elementary school-aged children out of lessons they found offensive and inappropriate. Later that month, a federal judge rejected the parents’ motion for a preliminary injunction to restore the opt-out option as the case is adjudicated.