Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Regulations Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions [8 VAC 20 ‑ 720]
Action Amendments Regarding Use of Controversial or Sensitive Instructional Materials
Comment Period Ended on 1/15/2014
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1/7/14  9:14 am
Commenter: Lynn McNally

Impossible Task - Problematic Outcomes

     As a Library Program Supervisor for a large Virginia district with a staff that has shrunk (at the same time that the student population and number of schools has grown), I feel I must comment on these proposals.

     With regard to proposed changes in procedures that school divisions must have in place to address the use of sensitive or controversial instructional materials in the classroom, our district, like many other VA districts has a policy in place for reconsideration of materials. I am not sure what these new required procedures will be so it is difficult to comment. However, one must ask would we be required to now define “sensitive” and “controversial”?

     With regard to the proposed amendment to require a copy of the syllabus for each child's course, including a notice to parents about any sensitive or sexually explicit materials that may be included in the course, the textbook, or any supplemental instructional materials, our district believes that, on a practical level, this would be beyond problematic and truly impossible for Library Services to accomplish. If we consider all of the 300,000+ titles in our libraries as supplemental instructional materials, we would need to a) define “sensitive” and “sexually explicit” and then b) review all 300,000 titles to determine if they met the definition. With regard to new titles being purchased, we would need to have a person(s) who would review all new acquisitions. Again, on a practical level, even if we could come up with criteria for these definitions, we do not have the manpower to review current 300,000+ titles or new ones moving forward.

     On an ethical level, school libraries are very sensitive to the desire to provide a wide variety of reading experiences for their students. Library collections are tasked with providing various viewpoints that will challenge students to be sensitive to the world around them.  Some of these viewpoints could be construed as “sensitive,” and would we not then be working counter to our mission as a public school library.

     I would venture to say that one could claim that all fictional books deal with a sensitive topic or theme; else, why would the author write the novel. Would we list all history books – fiction or non-fiction – that deal with “sensitive” topics? Would we give parents the ability for their children to opt out of reading about the Holocaust? War? Religions?

     Furthermore, in different communities and over time, definitions and tolerance levels change for what is deemed appropriate or inappropriate. This is one reason, along with others, that we have our individual school libraries build their own collections.

CommentID: 29877