My name is H. Massey and I’m a resident of Henrico County, Virginia.
I have serious concerns about the VDOE’s model policies concerning instructional materials with “sexually explicit content,” a broadly vague term that could be applied to important works of literature like Beloved by Toni Morrison or Ulysses by James Joyce.
As the parent of a K-12 public school student, I strongly believe that it’s crucial for public schools to have a diverse and inclusive curriculum, one free from censorship and the fear of repercussions. Classrooms should be a place where students are free to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn about diverse viewpoints.
My child is going to take a course on African-American history and her education about that complex period in America’s history would be negatively impacted if she couldn’t read relevant books such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Her school once pulled the book Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez from the library for review, threatening to deprive her of an important work that addresses the existence and negative consequences of racism in the United States.
While parents are invaluable teachers in their children’s lives, the public school system was established to support parents in educating their children. Teachers, librarians, and education experts have years of experience and are well equipped to introduce diverse and sometimes difficult subjects into the classroom while mitigating the harm and trauma these subjects may cause their students. They are trained professionals whose jobs are to put the students’ interests first. The proposed model policies would make it harder for these educators to do their job and will likely result in censorship due to teacher and librarian’s fear or confusion over what qualifies as “sexually explicit content.”
Furthermore, these model policies will lead to curriculum that presents the views of LGBQT+ people and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color being overly scrutinized and potentially removed from the classroom. As a queer, biracial parent of a disabled child, I’m horrified about the possibility that my child will be denied the full range of inclusive and diverse educational material that ought to be available to her.
Throughout America’s history, LGBQT+, BIPOC, and disabled communities have been treated as “other” in public discourse, in books, music, sports, and all avenues of American life. Books about queer relationships are labeled as LGBQT, while those about heteronormative relationships don’t have to be.
The model policies further erase disabled, LGBQT, and BIPOC identities, reinforcing the belief that books about those experiences aren’t for everyone. Even worse, they could potentially prevent LGBTQ+ youth from accessing life-saving information about themselves. Representation matters, and all Virginia students deserve to learn free from censorship and political interference.
Virginia students like my child deserve to grow up into brave, courageous people who value diversity and inclusion. We are all better off when young people are encouraged to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It is for the above reasons that I oppose the proposed model policies.