Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Guidance Document Change: The guidance document "Model Policies Concerning Instructional Materials with Sexually Explicit Content" was developed in conjunction with stakeholders in order to comply with SB656 (2022).
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7/16/22  11:11 am
Commenter: Steven Vogel

Strongly Opposed to Dangerous State-Mandated Censorship

This law, SB 656, allows parents to make demands of teachers and librarians based on their individual personal views and opinions of what qualifies as "sexually explicit content," without taking into account the value of the instructional materials as a whole.  In accordance with this new law, the Virginia Department of Education developed model policies to ensure that educators notify parents when "sexually explicit" content will be used in classrooms.

Unfortunately, the definition of what is "sexually explicit" content is both broad and vague in both the law and the proposed policies, casts a wide net on what information falls under it, and includes "homosexuality" in the definition of "sexual conduct," as if it is a "choice."  Such an overly broad definition means that instructional materials that teach LGBTQ+ history, and family life education inclusive of LGBTQ+ families and health, may be censored from the classroom due to teachers' and librarians' confusion and/or fear of these subjects being qualified as "sexually explicit."  It could also mean that any book with a sentence or paragraph remotely sexual in nature could be challenged, even when the book as a whole is extremely valuable to learning.

"Sexually explicit" is so vague and overly broad term that it could be used to exclude important reading materials and classics like "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, "A Call to Arms" by Ernest Hemmingway, even "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck.  Too often, a scene or a paragraph can be taken out of context and used by a parent as a reason to label the entire book "sexually explicit," without considering the full context and the lessons students can learn from the work in its entirety.

This law has the seriously willful potential of eliminating discussions of race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, and how they intersect in the teaching of history, literature, and health in our schools.  SB 656 will lead to curriculum that presents the views of LGBTQ+ people and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) being overly scrutinized and potentially removed from the classroom.  Creating an environment where potentially only one perspective prevails detracts from the very real richness and diversity of our nation’s history.

A Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey found that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.  We also know that LGBTQ+ youth often seek information outside of the home to navigate this challenging time.  SB 656 creates a school environment that clearly paints LGBTQ+ youth as “other” and perpetuates stigmas against LGBTQ+ people--a potentially very dangerous environment.  This law and these policies unnecessarily put LGBTQ+ students at very serious risk, a responsibility and legal liability that our schools cannot and should not have to expose themselves to.
SB 656 puts teachers and librarians in the untenable professional position of having to foretell what a parent might claim is “sexually explicit content.”

Nothing already prevents or interferes with parents exercising their parental rights to teach within the confines of the home whatever they wish, or to prohibit whatever reading materials they wish.

But students have rights, too, and paramount among them is the right to learn.

CommentID: 122587