Parents at charter school protest controversial materials, pull kids from school

Parents at a Ham Lake charter school are protesting the school's partnership with AmazeWorks, which recommends books on gender identity for kindergarteners.

charter school
Protests took place outside the school on Wednesday afternoon when children were picked up and again Thursday morning. (Photo provided to Alpha News)

Parents at a Ham Lake charter school pulled their children from classes this week in protest of a controversial curriculum that teaches young students about gender identity and LGBTQ issues.

“Elementary school should be about learning academics, not politically controversial topics, especially without a parent’s knowledge or consent. These topics cross religious and faith-based boundaries for many of us,” Lyndsey McKusick, a parent of students at DaVinci Academy, told Alpha News.

McKusick explained that an estimated 260 students were absent Wednesday and another 300 on Thursday. Protests took place outside the school both days, once on Wednesday afternoon when children were picked up and again Thursday morning when they were dropped off as parents carried signs saying, “Protect our children’s innocence” and, “An agenda disguised as an education.”

The school did not respond to a request for comment about the absentee numbers.

“There were also many families that kept their children home in lieu of the protest to show what school numbers would look like if these parents chose to pull their children from the school,” McKusick told Alpha News. “While this does account for other absences as well, that is a very alarmingly high number.”

Parents carried signs saying, “Protect our children’s innocence” and, “An agenda disguised as an education.” (Photo provided to Alpha News)

The specific curriculum in question is provided by a St. Paul-based organization called AmazeWorks, which partners with schools to provide “anti-bias education” and has been the subject of past Alpha News reporting. The organization’s executive director previously told Alpha News that children as young as two or three “are picking up on social cues as to how they are supposed to think and behave in their gender roles and expectations and how they’re supposed to express gender.”

As such, one book used in kindergarten classrooms at DaVinci Academy is called “Jacob’s News Dress,” which explores “the unique challenges faced by children who don’t identify with traditional gender roles,” according to a book list.

The list was sent to families this week and includes about 100 books covering topics such as gender identity, sexual orientation, and more.

“We are protesting the AmazeWorks curriculum as well as any LGBTQ, gender identity, gender fluidity, and transgenderism teachings within the elementary classroom,” McKusick said. “I feel as if those topics are very sensitive and I would like to be able to present these topics to my children when the time arises and is appropriate for their maturity to comprehend without being vulnerable and moldable.”

Other books speak to topics such as feminism and divorce in a way that “would not align with my family’s morals and values,” McKusick said, alleging the school had not properly informed parents about the use of AmazeWorks.

A parent of two children in DaVinci Academy, who asked to remain anonymous, told Alpha News that parents want “this content removed as an option for teachers to use.”

“I am opposing the opt-out solution that they offered as it isn’t inclusive to my child, instead suggesting an opt in for those that want to partake in such content,” the parent said.

DaVinci responds

Holly Fischer, executive director of DaVinci Academy, sent Alpha News a copy of an email that went out to families Thursday in response to a request for comment.

“Since the September 25, 2023, School Board meeting, we have had many parents question the use of selected portions of the AmazeWorks instructional resources that have been used to supplement our character education program at DaVinci since the 2021-2022 school year,” the email reads.

Parents pulled their kids from school in protest of AmazeWorks. (Photo provided to Alpha News)

“Our teachers sometimes use these books as part of the character education program. Our teachers do not use these books every day. Instead, they are a resource that teachers may use when implementing character education or as needed to respond to bullying. No DaVinci teacher is currently scheduled to use the curriculum in question in the next several weeks.”

According to the email, DaVinci Academy began using AmazeWorks in 2021 following a voluntary “environmental scan.”

The board meeting referenced in the email included a presentation from various teachers about the AmazeWorks books, where Fischer acknowledged that “a number” of families have asked to opt out. One board member pegged the number at 150 students.

“Every family who has requested an opt out, I have granted that. I have a list of families who have made it very clear that they would like their child to opt out of certain conversations, and that is a parent’s right, statutorily,” Fischer said. She then opened the conversation to school board members for questions.

“Why wasn’t this presentation put together and introduced to the parents before introducing it to their kids knowing that this concluded to have a certain uprise in parents’ concerns?” board member Sana Soussi asked Fischer.

“We have been using these stories over the past couple of years as we’ve needed them. The easiest way for a teacher to create conversation is through picture books, and so they have been used for a number of years,” Fischer responded.

Others raised concerns about the book “When Aidan Became a Brother,” which is about a very young girl who decides she is a “trans boy.”

“I think we glossed over the concerns that were voiced earlier today and what that book actually says. Yes, he (Aidan) does welcome a sibling, but that’s not the only story in the book,” board member Jacob Stith said.

He questioned Fischer about how many other resources a teacher might have to talk about the same principle of welcoming a sibling. “Thousands,” said Fischer, who addressed the issue at length in a newsletter sent to families Friday.

“If that’s the case and we have so many concerns, as a board does it really make sense for us to be including these types of resources when there’s so many out there that do the same thing?” Stith said. “There’s certain topics I want to teach my own children.”


Hayley Feland

Hayley Feland previously worked as a journalist with The Minnesota Sun, The Wisconsin Daily Star, and The College Fix. She is a Minnesota native with a passion for politics and journalism.