Virginia Won’t Require Teachers to Flag Materials With ‘Sexually Explicit Content’

By Liana Loewus — April 04, 2016 2 min read
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Today the governor vetoed a bill that would have made Virginia the only state to require K-12 teachers to identify classroom materials with “sexually explicit content” so that parents could opt their children out of such reading.

The legislation became known as the “Beloved bill,” because it stemmed from a parent’s attempt to remove author Toni Morrison’s book from a high school curriculum.

The bill would have required public schools to notify parents if a teacher was using instructional materials with “sexually explicit content,” to allow parents to review the content, and to provide an alternative assignment at a parent’s request.

Opponents of the bill said it could lead to censorship. In a March 8 letter to the governor, a coalition of free speech groups wrote that “flagging one type of potentially controversial content invites demands to identify other types of content which some find offensive, including LGBT-themed materials, racial references, religious content, and so on.” And since the bill is vague on the definition of sexually explicit, the groups wrote, it could apply to many classic and contemporary works including Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, and much of Shakespeare.

Supporters argue that parents should have the right to control their students’ exposure to graphic content. The parent who brought the Beloved complaint, Laura Murphy, said parents should be able to opt students out of such materials the same way they can opt students out of sex-ed class, reports the Washington Post.

About half of school districts in Virginia already require that teachers warn parents about the use of potentially sensitive materials, the paper reports.

In a statement, the governor wrote that the “legislation lacks flexibility and would require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context.” The law is unnecessary, he said, because the state board of education is already considering a policy to address parental concerns about materials.

Republican Del. Steve Landes, who sponsored the bill on the speaker’s behalf, vowed to reintroduce the bill next year if the board doesn’t act, reports the Associated Press. “Parents make decisions every day about what video games kids play, what movies they watch, and what material they consume online. They should have the same opportunity within the classroom,” he said in a statement.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.