The proposed new model policies required by SB 656 include definitions that 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. Books that form part of the foundation for critical thinking skills our children need to be successful in our modern society.
This 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. These are historically marginalized communities that desperately need proper representation in our classroom lessons in order to provide accurate and intersectional eduction to our children.
Furthermore, people who are not heterosexual or cis-gender SHOULD NOT, BY DEFAULT, be considered “sexually explicit” by the Virginia Department of Education or Virginia public schools. Mentioning/acknowledging these groups and their place in society does not automatically mean that a discussion of sexually explicit information is occurring.
Lastly, these proposed 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, these new policies are not necessary, and would do nothing except to add layers of bureaucracy and censorship onto Virginia public schools.
For these reasons I object to and urge the VA Department of Education not to adopt these model policies. They are unnecessary, duplicative and chilling of free speech and would damage the quality of the education our children receive and harm historically marginalized groups who have been unfairly persecuted in the past.