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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1/9/14  6:50 am
Commenter: Elizabeth Clarke

Support Amendment/Mirrors FLE

After having read through many of these comments regarding the use of controversial and sensitive instructional materials in Virginia classrooms, I’m wondering  how many of those that are calling for the rejection of this amendment have actually read the Va. Board of Education Agenda document (NOIRA) Agenda Item B, October 24, 2013, in its entirety?

The concerns, should this amendment be adopted, seem to be expressed mostly by teachers and educators, which I find curious because our school districts are already held to the same guidelines in the current Family Life Education (FLE) curriculum, which certainly contains material considered sensitive and controversial by the Va. Board of Education.  Please refer to the 2011 document “Family Life Education, Board of Education Guidelines and Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools”.   As the parent of a middle school-aged child, at the start of every school year I receive a written letter from our school informing me of the FLE program, and of my right as a parent to review the materials to be used in the classroom (written, as well as audio-visual), and of my choice to opt out my child from any part of this program.  I must actively request that my child be opted out by using an opt-out form.   If I choose to allow my child to sit in on all classes than I do nothing, meaning I simply do not return the opt-out form.  A later decision to opt-out must be submitted in writing to the school principal.  This recent proposed amendment seems to be seeking the same sensible actions by a school district when classroom/supplemental material deemed sensitive and controversial is to be presented to impressionable students.

Teachers, the regulations called for are based upon a survey done by your own Va. Dept. of Education, which found that many school divisions already have such policies in place for these types of materials, however, not all do.  The Board is seeking to ensure that all school divisions will have policies in place henceforth.  Like FLE, the Board is calling for reasonable parental NOTIFICATION of such materials, the option of ALTERNATIVE materials or an opt-out of class when the material is discussed, and a copy of the division’s policies surrounding these materials.  These proposals mirror the same regulations already being adhered to in the FLE curriculum.  The concerns about expunging classic, but sensitive literature, and the potential undue burden on the teacher of having to notify parents regarding these materials are overblown.  Parental notification via the course syllabus at the start of the school year with the titles of books and materials, and a brief description of these materials, particularly those with “sexually explicit” content, would show reasonable effort to comply with what the board is proposing.  For those educators unsure of what “sexually explicit” means, Merriam-Webster defines it as “very clear and complete; leaving no doubt about the meaning; showing or referring very openly to nudity, violence, or sexual activity, openly shown”.

And what is the goal that the Board is ultimately seeking with this amendment?  It is not to make life more difficult for teachers, nor to “ban books”, etc.   Rather the Board document states their purpose is to “ensure that all school divisions have procedures in place to address the use of sensitive or controversial materials.”   This seems entirely reasonable in our current cultural climate.  The Board further lays out the impact these regulations would have on families:

 “This regulatory action is expected to support the family by informing parents that there are plans for classroom use of instructional materials that the school division deems of educational value, but that contain controversial or sensitive content.” 

This is not only reasonable for educators, but sensible policy for a public school division, and is respectful of legitimate parental concerns over what is being presented to their children in some Virginia classrooms.  This amendment is worthy of our support and should be adopted.


CommentID: 29917