My name is Sara Meldrum and I live in Williamsburg, Virginia.
I have serious concerns about the VDOE’s model policies concerning instructional materials with “sexually explicit content.” Such vague terminology could be applied to important works of literature such as Maus, an accessible and critically acclaimed work about the Holocaust, which was removed from classrooms in Tennessee earlier this year on the basis of a single scene of (hand-drawn cartoon, non-sexual) nudity.
Requiring teachers to notify parents of content they might find objectionable places an undue burden on teachers, who already have too many demands on their time. Although SB656 states, "the provisions of this act shall not be construed as requiring or providing for the censoring of books in public elementary and secondary schools," the effect of this extra labor for teachers and the stress of having their choices of educational materials scrutinized will be censorship. Consciously or unconsciously, some teachers will self-censor their choices, opting for materials they consider less likely to incur objections from parents.
Furthermore, although these guidelines don't require parental notification for materials with LGBTQ characters or perspectives--and the definition given for "sexually explicit" would not seem to encompass such materials--they leave open the possibility that some school districts may create "more comprehensive" policies that do in fact require notification on that basis. This is a dangerous loophole in the model policies that may allow some districts to effectively ban LGBTQ characters and perspectives from classrooms.
As a parent and librarian, I believe that classrooms should be a place where students are free to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn about diverse viewpoints. While parents are invaluable teachers in their children’s lives, the public school system was established to support parents in educating their children. Teachers and librarians are experts in identifying the best current educational materials for children and are well equipped to introduce sometimes difficult subjects into the classroom in ways that support children's learning and emotional health.
It is for these reasons that I oppose the proposed model policies.