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Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Guidance Document Change: The guidance document "Model Policies Concerning Instructional Materials with Sexually Explicit Content" was developed in conjunction with stakeholders in order to comply with SB656 (2022).
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8/2/22  11:17 am
Commenter: Brandon Butler

It's a trap

This bill was a trap and so are these guidelines. Like many schemes designed to undermine public schools and other public goods, they create a new regulatory headache that will intimidate, demoralize, and frustrate the professionals we entrust to educate our kids. As currently written, they will (further) empower radical parents to make teachers' lives miserable and disrupt teaching for other students, and discourage important conversations in the classroom. Good teachers will leave Virginia schools to teach in other states where they are free to do their jobs without harassment. Some may leave the profession entirely. Others may decide not to enter it. Our students and our schools will be the ultimate victims of this scheme, which would be tragic given the historic strength of our public and higher education systems.

"Sexually explicit" is the perfect dog whistle, because conservative activists know they can use it to suppress frank discussions of (or even mere acknowledgment of the existence of) LGBTQ+ folks (among other groups), while moderate parents who aren't paying attention to these fake controversies can be fooled into thinking they are aimed at hardcore pornography or some other obviously objectionable content. Of course no self-respecting public school teacher would share harmful sexual content with their students, and if any teacher did, we don't need special new guidelines or rules as a pretext to discipline them. These policies don't protect students from harm. They create pointless, punitive, and oppressive regulatory burdens for schools and teachers, turning parents against teachers and schools. All of it in service of a combination of cynical, fake outrage by political hacks who need something to run on, and genuinely unhinged outrage by fringe groups who can't tell the difference between Toni Morrison and Penthouse magazine. 

Now that the bill is passed, the best way to reduce its harm would be to write guidelines that take the opposite approach of this draft. The Guiding Principles, for example, should protect the teacher's professional discretion to design an instructive program that will benefit all students, and the rights of parents who would like their children to benefit from the best possible instruction. Each parent's right to know what their child is learning in school, and to raise their children at home consistent with their own beliefs and values, should not amount to a heckler's veto over the right of other parents to have their children educated consistent with the standards and best practices of trained professional staff in Virginia schools, or the right of all Virginians to have a school system that teaches Virginia kids a full and well-rounded curriculum. The concern that the policy be given "non-punitive" effect should be re-written to ensure the policy is not punitive toward teachers and other students when a parent disagrees with the teacher's choice of learning materials and wishes for his children to receive a divergent learning experience. The "Related Laws" section demonstrates that these model guidelines and the bill that requires their drafting are both unnecessary and redundant, as parents already have substantial rights to learn about and influence the education their children receive in Virginia schools. 

I could go on, but as a wise man once said, "You can't polish a turd, Beavis." The law that spawned these guidelines was written in bad faith and intended to have bad results. It will take a heroic effort by a future administration with more enlightened views to revise these guidelines to try to undo the harm that they were obviously intend to do. Ultimately, we must hope (and work) for a government that puts all Virginia students first, rather than using our schools as a wedge issue to win votes.

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