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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1/1/14  2:14 pm
Commenter: Lisa Payne: Teacher, LCPS

Reject Proposed Language Amending 8 VAC 20-720-160
I urge rejection of the proposed addition of  language to 8 VAC 20-720-160 pertaining to sensitive or sexually explicit material. Most school districts already have such policies or language included in their local policies and procedures. Those that do not currently have such a policy statement should consider adoption to address student or parental requests for accommodating personal, religious or cultural objections on a case by case basis at the local school level.
The proposed language invites censorship, by a vocal minority of parents or groups, of broadly accepted works of literature and possibly material used in the science curriculum. If the Commonwealth sees an overwhelming need to establish such policies at the local level, I suggest instead language requiring local school boards to adopt a policy statement of their own that provides language describing a process reflective of the local division that does not promote censorship. While not uniform in statutory language, this would allow for the creation of a policy reflecting the philosophy and characteristics of the local school division respective of the values held by the various communities served. Doing so also addresses the unique characteristics posed by the very nature of diversity of school districts in Virginia.
Local school divisions, school administrators and classroom teachers must not be put in a position of rigidly policing course materials to such an extent where Shakespeare and Chaucer,  among other classic works of literature, become so sanitized that the meaning of the works are diluted or eliminated. The subjective nature of literature alone creates a healthy opportunity for massive objections by students who consider the material as "stupid or boring", or to parents and other members of the community who have a radical political or social agenda. In my school division, teachers follow the LCPS district policy and apply their professional judgment when using any material for instruction. Micro managing instruction by dictating content is censorship that stifles learning and opportunities for students to make learning relevant. Opening the door to outside censorship with the proposed language legitimizes such behaviors. 
Let local school divisions create their own language through locally crafted policies and regulations. The Commonwealth should not define where the notice of such a policy is located, nor should it define specific language for such a statement. Instead, each school division should adopt a policy of its own and make every effort to make its policy easily accessible to the public. Including the proposed language in the annual distribution of the syllabus and curriculum content only invites challenges and promotes censorship. Please do not adopt the proposed language amending VAC 20-720-160.
Respectfully submitted,
L. G. Payne, M.Ed.
CommentID: 29799