Pro-Family Women supports SB 656 as a much-needed tilt toward restoring parental rights and welcomes all efforts toward making parental notification of sexually explicit material a more standardized and open procedure. In particular, the proposed 30-day written notice to parents and the listing of book titles and instructional materials that contain sexually explicit material on the school’s public website stand in contrast to the labyrinthian sleuthing parents needed to undertake previously to discover such content. We also appreciate that these Model Policies contain a reference to the existing Virginia Code stating that parents have the right to review the complete family life curricula, including all supplemental materials used in any family life education program.
Pro-Family Women, however, has concerns about the inclusion of the following sentence found in Appendix I’s Sample Policy: “When determining whether instructional materials contain sexually explicit content, teachers, principals, and division staff should consider student age and maturity, and whether a parent might reasonably consider the instructional content harmful to their child.” (p. 10)
Inclusion of the above bolded sentence would undermine the purpose of the recently enacted statute (Va. Code Section 22.1-16.8) by allowing school personnel to make subjective assessments as to whether instructional material contains sexually explicit content. These subjective determinations would impact whether or not students’ parents are given notice.
Under the statute, if school instructional material contains content that meets the statutory definition of “sexually explicit content,” then parents must be notified. But the above bolded sentence allows school personnel to make a subjective assessment of student “age and maturity,” and whether the content might or might not “reasonably” be considered “harmful,” in determining whether the image or description is sexually explicit content. Giving school personnel the authority to make subjective assessments in determining the presence of sexually explicit content (which would trigger parental notice), is contrary to the statute. And, a child’s parents are in the best position to make determinations of maturity, and potential harm to their child.
Inclusion of the above bolded sentence could potentially allow students to be exposed to sexually explicit content, without parental notification, that Virginia’s state employees are prohibited from viewing on state owned or leased computers. The definition of “sexually explicit content” contained in Va. Code Section 22.1-16.8 is the exact same definition found in Virginia’s current statutory prohibition on state employees viewing sexually explicit content on state owned or leased computer equipment.
Pro-Family Women’s concerns above regarding the language found in Appendix I’s Sample Policy are important because the “Sample Policy” is not just a “sample” tacked on to the end of the “Model Policies.” Rather, the Virginia Department of Education clearly states in its document that “[t]he phrase ‘Model Policies’ means the entirety of this document, including Appendix I to this document.”
Pro-Family Women also wants to point out that some may mistakenly believe that this parental notification bill means that they will be alerted to all content they might find unsuitable for their own child(ren). SB 656 uses the established definition of sexually explicit content found in Va. Code Section 2.2-2827. We would like to advise parents that since the parental notification bill only addresses the content that fits within this established definition, their children may still be presented in the classroom with material that does not align with their own family values and/or may not be age appropriate. The statute and the Model Policies do not require parental notification when sexual orientation or gender identity are taught in the classroom.