Published March 17, 2022, University of Mary Washington Weekly Ringer
by Jean Mondoro
The recently approved Virginia bill regarding sexually explicit content in schools is not censorship but a necessary step in reinstating the role of parental guidance and decision-making in education.
From as early as the 17th century, education has been viewed primarily as a parental responsibility. It began with private education within the home with supplementary schooling in public institutions. Over time, more control was granted to local towns and eventually state governments. Today, public schools have the power to distribute any content they wish, disregarding the tradition of parental input.
Based on the summary of the bill passed in the House, parents now have the right “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.” Sexually explicit content refers to any description or image of blatant sexual actions and abuse, as defined in the Virginia state law.
Whether educational materials are appropriate should not be a source of concern or debate in schools. Parents put their children into public schools based on a certain level of trust that they will be educated suitably for their given age group. When this trust is violated and young students are provided with books and other materials which include graphic descriptions and mature themes of sexual activity and ideologies, it is no surprise that there are protests and calls for reform. The role of parents in their children’s education has been belittled to the point that these materials are being used in the classroom without the knowledge and consent of parents.
Not only is this disrespectful, but it can also be a way to force unwanted knowledge of sexual behavior and themes on teenagers. If explicit material is presented for a class assignment, students may feel like they have no choice except to be exposed to the content for the sake of obtaining a passing grade. With it being unfair to force sexually explicit content upon students, this force allows for a choice for parents to make a decision about what their children can be exposed to.
Regardless of whether the student is willing to work with this material or not, research has proven that early exposure to sexually explicit content is harmful to teenagers. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health described the direct correlation between exposure to sexual content and resulting sexual attitudes and behaviors. It found that “exposure to sexual media was positively associated with general sexual experience, and risky sexual behaviors and was negatively related to age of sexual initation.” This is detrimental because, as this study references, “Several studies suggest that exposure to sexual media is associated with higher levels of unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and one-night stands.”
Within the last year, there have been many instances of parents protesting certain material available to their children in school. One school district in Loudoun county unanimously voted to remove Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” from the school library shelves due to the persistent depictions and illustrations of sexual activity between a boy and a man, masturbation and oral sex. Similar issues arose in Spotsylvania county when the school board initially voted to remove certain books and then overruled their decision. Considering the proven risks, is it not reasonable for parents to be upset when they find out that their children are being exposed to harmful content? In speaking out, parents call for the school system to educate in a manner that they can trust.
According to CNN, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s campaign was largely based on promises to reform education, including greater parental involvement. Now that action is being taken, it is wrongfully being referred to as censorship.
While “Gender Queer: A Memoir” was removed from the library in Loudoun county, thus censoring the content from the study body, this is not what House Bill 1009 establishes. Instead, what the bill creates is an opportunity for parents to have better knowledge and control over whether their children are exposed to sexually explicit content.
The new bill recognizes and respects the role of parents in education and the responsibility they have to raise their children to the best of their ability. It simply provides a choice where there was not one before.
Prior to this bill, students could be given course materials that exposed them to sexually explicit content, whether or not their parents desired that they see them. There was no choice involved. With this bill, the same materials can be used, but parents now have the legal right to be informed about the content of their children’s academics and, in turn, have a say in whether or not they are comfortable with their children being exposed to it.
Nobody is being forced into exposure to sexually explicit content against their will and nobody is banning any books. Rather, the bill offers a middle ground that enables an open dialogue between parents and schools and allows for parents to make important decisions regarding the education of their children.