Education should open doors to conversation and dialogue, not close them. However, Senate Bill 656 allows parents to make demands of teachers and librarians based on their individual viewpoints over what qualifies as “sexually explicit content,” without taking into account the value of the instructional materials as a whole. The definition of “sexually explicit” in Virginia’s law is so poorly defined that it could include books by LGBTQ+ authors and about LGBTQ+ experiences. This means a single parent could make a book inaccessible to the entire classroom based on a single scene or paragraph.
If a parent does not want their child to read a particular book, they can restrict their OWN child's access to reading materials. However, applying this restriction to an entire classroom or school is unfair to parents who want their children to have a well-rounded education that helps them understand the world and people different (or similar to!) themselves. Books can serve as windows, allowing children to learn about experiences unfamiliar to them, or as mirrors, helping them feel seen and valued. Additionally, the bill neglects the expertise and care of educators and librarians who are trained to select high quality learning materials and teach students about complex concepts and subjects.
Children deserve a public education that opens their minds to varied people and perspectives. They deserve to grow up into well-rounded individuals who can think for themselves, who value truth, diversity, equity, and justice, and who realize the world is a better place when all people feel safe, validated, and welcome. I strongly oppose Senate Bill 656, and all other attempts to curtail the freedom to read or limit access to information.