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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1/10/14  3:56 pm
Commenter: Kristin Zauel, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist

Support Amendment

As a parent, as well as a psychologist working with adolescents, I strongly support this amendment.  I believe that a consistent policy regarding sexually explicit material in the classroom (consistent with the video policy and with FLE), including good faith parental notification (not simply a broad-based warning on a syllabus of over 15 books that some may "contain mature content"), and a clearly communicated and transparent policy for opting-out, allows parents and teachers to work together in the joint effort of educating and protecting our children.  

I feel highly fortunate to live in Virginia with an excellent public school system, with tremendously intelligent and educated teachers.  However, with 25+ kids per class (and many class periods), I do not believe it is possible or necessary for teachers to know detailed information regarding each students' vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and emotional challenges.  I believe it is imperative for teachers and parents to work together for the well-being of each child.  

When the required reading contains explicit sex scenes depicting incest, rape, and pedophilia in detail (which would require parental consent if presented in video form in the classroom), I believe that parents should be notified in order to assist in supporting their adolescent in line with their own values and beliefs.  Furthermore, current research indicates that over one quarter of north American women have been raped or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.  One half of female college students have experienced some form of male sexual aggression in a given year.  Therefore, the population for whom this reading material may be sensitive, isn’t just one or two students.  Although it may take slightly more time to notify familes of this sexual violent material in the classroom, I believe that this effort could be of great benefit to the students and families in preparing themselves for the sexually explicit content in the class reading.

Violence in the media, including sexual violence, has been shown to influence people in ways that they may view the world around them as highly dangerous, unpredictable and have a heightened sense of insecurity, vulnerability, and dependence.  The research is clear regarding the impact of media violence on aggressive behavior, desensitivity to violence, nightmares, and far of being harmed.  The strength of the correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior is greater than the correlations between calcium and bone mass, lead ingestion and lower IQ, environmental tobacco smoke and lung cancer.  Although one book, by itself, is certaintly not going to lead to increased depression or violence, but all of this information is part of the larger culture to which our kids are being exposed.  Rather than stand by and complain about the negative culture and impact, I believe it is important to do our part to influence, push, and direct toward increased positivity in line with our own beliefs.  In the recommedations by the AA of Pediatrics, they suggest making thoughtful media choices, including co-viewing with kids.  They also recommend that movie, video, and print media in waiting rooms of pediatricians be prescreened by child health professions.  And finally, they recommend content-based media ratings so that parents can align their children’s media exposure to their personal values. 

In order to assist parents in making these thoughtful choices about their children's exposure, I believe that this ammendment should be supported.  Clear, good-faith parental notification should be provided with genuine information so that parents can make choices that are in line with their own values.  The current blanket statement that some of the reading material on the list of 15 books "may contain mature content" is not detailed enough, in my view, to clearly help adolescents and their families make choices regarding which material may be potentially harmful due to circumstances unknown to the teacher.  Just as the school provides detailed notification and permission prior to showing rated R movies (including several of the novels on the reading list) or FLE information, parents should be provided with good faith information to make choices to benefit their students.   

Furthermore, a clear policy regarding the ability to opt-out of material needs to be provided to students and families.  Although a policy may be in place in many districts, many students are unaware that they have the option of choicing an alternative book if they find the current class choice highly distressing.  Students have also indicated a fear of opting out, even it were an option, due to fear of reprecussions from the teacher with regard to their grade.  If opting out is indeed an option or a policy, this needs to be clearly communicated to both students and their families at the beginning of the school year.

I believe that the teachers in my county and across the state are highly committed to seeing young people develop into well-educated and emotionally healthy adults.  I would like to utilize this shared passion among teachers and parents, to work together toward this end goal.  I know that teachers have information and knowledge that I do not possess, and my students benefits from this expertise.  But, parents also have unique and valuable information on their own child and their sensitivies, values, and history.  Only by working together can we really ensure a successful learning environment for each child. 


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