Last December, a guidance counselor in rural Pennsylvania read a children’s book about a dress-wearing boy to a kindergarten class without advance notice to the parents, upsetting some residents in the district. Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, is a story about a boy who wants to wear a dress to school despite some kids saying he can’t wear “girl clothes.” It speaks to the “unique challenges faced by boys who don’t identify with traditional gender roles,” according to its book cover.

After a guidance counselor read the book to her students, the kindergarten teacher sent a note home to parents explaining that the book teaches the need to be kind to everyone. She wrote that the book emphasizes that outward appearances are not important and speaks to the problem of bullying in school.

However, six residents raised concerns to the school board and nearly 30 residents attended a district meeting about the book and parental notification procedures in January. Superintendent Kevin Peart of the Lampeter-Strasburg School District has planned a workshop meeting, possibly on February 17, to further discuss notification protocol. (NCAC has warned elsewhere against parental notification and other “red-flagging” policies since such actions will inevitably discourage the use of these books in the classroom.)

“It was never about proselytizing or promoting a lifestyle we recognize the community is uncomfortable with,” Superintendent Peart explained. “The fact is that the book was read to a specific class to address a specific need of a specific student identified by our staff and parents.” Yet some parents are upset by the “breach of promise,” as one father put it, and Pastor Jamie Mitchell of the Harvest Bible Chapel has demanded that the district “publicly promise never to introduce this kind of material with this kind of agenda to our children,” meaning specifically the “gay agenda.” Although Mitchell has claimed that the issue is not about book banning but about parental notification, his insistence that the school board never use “this kind of material” is deleterious to the children’s sense of awareness and tolerance.

At least one mother has praised the school for teaching her son about acceptance. Lauren Menapace has spoken up in the local paper: “I, for one, am thankful that the classroom teacher and guidance counselor took the time to address the situation rather than sweep it under the rug.” At the public meeting with the school board, Menapace said, “In a world where bullying is a prominent issue, we have seen far too many children hurt themselves or others when their differences were ignored or looked down upon.” NCAC joins Menapace in applauding those involved for defending the right of children everywhere to read the books, and wear the clothes, they want.