Virginia passes law requiring schools to report sexually explicit classroom books to parents

An empty classroom is seen at Hollywood High School on August 13, 2020, in Hollywood, California.
An empty classroom is seen at Hollywood High School on August 13, 2020, in Hollywood, California. | Getty Images/Rodin Eckenroth

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has signed a bill into law that will require school boards to inform parents of when books used in the classroom contain sexually explicit content.

Known as Senate Bill 656 and signed by Youngkin last week, the new law orders the Virginia Department of Education to create “model policies” for school boards by July 31, and requires school boards to adopt the policies by Jan. 1 of next year.

“The Department shall develop and make available to each school board model policies for ensuring parental notification of any instructional material that includes sexually explicit content,” states SB 656.  

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The policies will include parental notification, “identifying the specific instructional material and sexually explicit subjects,” and allowing “the parent of any student to review instructional material that includes sexually explicit content and provide, as an alternative, nonexplicit instructional material and related academic activities to any student whose parent so requests.”

Last week, Youngkin also signed House Bill 938, which requires the Board of Education “to convene a group of stakeholders” that would include parents and school officials in order to make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding issues like improving academic standards and increasing transparency for proficiency standards.

In a statement released last Friday, Youngkin explained that SB 656 and HB 938 “both deliver on my Day One promises to give parents a greater say in their children’s education.”

“I'm pleased to sign them into law, along with many other bipartisan bills that will enhance education, improve public safety, provide tax relief, and make government work better for the people of Virginia,” stated Youngkin.

Last year, Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, which is one of the largest school districts in the United States, garnered controversy for having sexually graphic books in their high school libraries.

These included the books Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, which graphically depict sexual acts between men and boys. 

After a highly publicized school board meeting in which a parent read passages from the books, FCPS officials announced that the “circulation of these books has been suspended, while a committee reviews and makes recommendations about the text.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Republican, signed a bill last month that prohibited school officials and third parties from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with students between kindergarten and the third grade.

Known as House Bill 1557 but derisively called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, critics of the legislation claimed that it censored the speech of students and faculty regarding LGBT issues.

Supporters of HB 1557 argued that it was a necessary law to support parental rights, and questioned the morality of those who wanted teachers to talk to little kids about sexual matters.

“Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children,” stated DeSantis last month.

“Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old.”

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