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  5:13 pm
Commenter: Former student of Fairfax County and soon to be Viginia teacher

Careful Consideration and a Reasonable Conclusion

First, I think it is important to note that the phrasing of the proposed amendment is, as stated by other commenters, ambiguous. Secondly, I would like to point out that the greater emphasis of the amendment as it currently reads is placed upon those topics of a "sexually explicit" nature, by the mere fact that the topic is specified in unequivocal terms. Unfortunately, it seems as though the focus of the controversy over passing this amendment has fallen heavily upon the former rather than the latter topic. A careful rewording, along with further enumeration of topics which might qualify as "sensitive", would do a great deal to alleviate these concerns and allow for more productive dialog.

The second point which must be addressed is the general feeling of frustration on the contra side that power is being taken from the teachers in the classrooms. The primary point to consider before addressing the classroom situation is the relationship of the teacher to the student. Before ever entering a larger social learning environment, the parents of the child are the child's primary educators. As such, they have a unique right and voice in making decisions regarding the education of their child. That is not to say that they have the only right, but they do have the primary right and greatest understanding of the child as a whole individual, and therefore the range of topics appropriate to the age and understanding of their child. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but I am speaking in general terms here to convey the point. Teachers are charged with the responsibility to introduce new ideas to their students, and to develop their own (the children's own, that is) abilities to reason and to understand what they encounter outside the classroom. Difficult topics- such as racism, genocide, morality, and relativism to name only a few examples- make frequent appearances in their classroom on a daily basis, both in real life and in literature. That being said, these topics can be addressed in a thought-provoking, insightful, and appropriate manner without requiring direct and explicit exposure to specific and often graphic examples. It is essential that the students come to an understanding of the reality of the certain subjects, but not in a way which offends their level of reason or leads to a desensitization of the child to that particular situation.

To accommodate both parties, I believe that providing more explicit terms for this amendment would go a long way toward creating the best situation for students, teachers, and parents. I would also suggest that, along with passing the revised amendment, that local school systems provide opportunities for networking to any teachers affected by the amendment. I would also suggest that the heads of departments in the public high schools (by city/county) be given an opportunity to collaborate and create standardized descriptions/criteria for the enumerated topics on a book-by-book basis for those works included in the standard curricula for that particular body (city/county school system). This would alleviate much of the additional workload to the teachers while still fulfilling the guidelines of the amendment.

Thank you for considering these suggestions.

CommentID: 30497