School districts struggle to implement new laws on sexually explicit books
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) -Although a new Virginia law requires schools to inform parents when sexually explicit materials are used in the classroom, some districts are using that law as the basis to go further and remove certain books from schools altogether.
Book ban requests across the state often have cited the Virginia law, which was signed last year by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The law requires schools to ensure parents are notified of any instructional material that includes sexually explicit content and allows them to request alternative materials for their children.
But Virginia Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, who introduced the bill last year, said the law was never intended to be a pretext for book bans in school libraries and on classroom shelves.
“This is not about books,” Dunnavant said. “This is not about censoring. This is about collaboration and what’s in the best interest of a child. And so, I was sorry to hear … that in some cases someone is using this bill in the wrong way.”
Legislatures in other states, including Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah, have likewise passed laws aimed at giving parents control over or banning explicit sexual materials from classrooms. But school districts in many of the states with new laws are still figuring out whether that includes library books, books used in the classroom or both.
Kasey Meehan, who directs PEN America’s Freedom to Read project, said vague legislation and loose guidance in some states have a chilling effect on school decision-makers, who become overly cautious.
“This is where we see legislation empowering local actors — or giving local actors — something to point to when they look to censor certain books,” Meehan said.
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