These specific policies may have a chilling effect on education in today’s classrooms, were rushed with minimal input, and are supported by Senate Bill 656 that passed on overwhelmingly partisan lines. This policy is the opposite of fostering critical thinking in our students.
The policy definitions are overly broad; therefore, “sexually explicit” materials could include books that have been in school curricula for decades, such as both William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Teachers are the arbiters of “explicit” content, which means that they have two options: a) develop two separate curriculums, or b) choose the most innocuous, least challenging materials to ensure that they are not violating the policy. Neither of these options are palatable for teachers, students, or families.
They will lead to censorship within public schools, particularly censorship of books about LGBTQIA characters and issues. Even civil rights lessons could be censored to exclude rights for non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people.
Particularly worrisome is that model policy definitions linked to in the law and policy explicitly say that “homosexuality” triggers the law and limitations, which could lead to the elimination of discussion or recognition of students, educators, staff, and families who are members of the LGBTQIA community. People who are not heterosexual should NOT be considered “sexually explicit” by the Virginia Department of Education or Virginia public schools.
These explicit materials policies are also duplicative of policies that already exist in Virginia, providing transparency into the libraries and curricula of public schools. Parents have always had the right to opt their child out of material in the classroom. In many school districts, all materials are approved by a committee that includes educators and parents/guardians. Thus, why are these new policies even necessary, except to add layers of bureaucracy and censorship onto Virginia public schools?