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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1/14/14  8:54 pm
Commenter: Fairfax County teacher and tax payer


I oppose this ammendment for several reasons.  The most important is the vague language.  First, "sensitive" is way too ambiguous of a term.  Many parents would find the topics in Lois Lowry The Giver to be sensitive.   Others clearly would not. How in the world can teachers begin to know what is "sensitive" to all parents.   Also, the term "supplementary instructional materials" is unclear.  Are you seriously asking teachers to include all poetry and news articles that they use instructionally throughout the year?  That would be absurd.  Our new state standards of learning require continuous pairing of texts.  That means, if a teacher is doing their job, they are routinely bringing in poetry and nonfiction to pair with the literature they are reading in order to reach higher levels of instruction.  In Fairfax County, middle school teachers probably use over 100 articles and poems in a school  year alone. 

Which leads us to another, in my opinion, purposely vague element of this amendment.  There is no clear time factor noted.  Which means a parent could demand that teachers include the notice of all of this supplementary material on a syllabus in the spring before a fall course when students begin to choose their courses.  That would mean that during the school year students would not be able to see any current articles, which we know allows them to make greater connections between literature and their world. 

I absolutely believe parents have the right to opt their student out of any text that they feel is inappropriate but school divisions already have notification- just less extreme notification- processes in effect.  In Fairfax County, all secondary schools must fill out rationale forms when they plan to teach a novel, thinking about what skills could be taught through the text AND what issues might arise through the study of this text.  They do this at a school level, allowing them to think of their individual students and populations.  Every rationale form requires the teacher to include alternative texts that students can read if their parents feel the novel is not a good fit for their child.  These rationales then go through an approval committee at each school.  Parents are a vital part of this committee.  The parent who raised the original complaint about Beloved was given the opportunity for their child to read an alternative text.  This process works!

 As has been pointed out in many other comments, this ammendment would start us down a very slippery slope.  Next, will history teachers be asked to not teach topics of history that some parents might view as sensitive?  Schools already have systems in place  to notify parents of sensitive issues and they have alternative titles in place.  Anything more is paving the path towards censorship.


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