CBLDF today joined a letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, urging him to veto House Bill 516 which would require public schools to notify parents of “sexually explicit content” in curricular materials. The bill has passed through both houses of the General Assembly, and the governor now has until April 12 to decide whether to veto it.
House Bill 516 arose out of one parent’s attempt to ban Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved from her son’s AP English class in Fairfax County after he complained that the book’s content gave him nightmares. Crafted earlier this year by House Speaker William J. Howell, the intent of the bill is to force schools to create a policy that would require them to notify parents of “sexually explicit content” and give parents the option to opt their children out of reading the title if they personally find it inappropriate.
When the bill first passed through the House last month, it had the unanimous support of all 98 representatives. Last week’s Senate vote was more divided at 22-17. Since the Senate also amended the bill, it then went back to the House for another vote. By now some members of that chamber had reconsidered their positions after hearing from constituents and an earlier NCAC letter, but it was too little, too late: The amended bill passed the House by a vote of 77-21.
Democratic Gov. McAuliffe has not publicly stated his views on the bill. In the letter sent today, NCAC members urged McAuliffe to consider the constitutional issues at stake and the headaches that the legislation would create for school districts:
Singling out material with a certain type of content inevitably creates a biased perspective and casts a negative light on the material regardless of its educational value. The bill is silent on what content would be labelled “sexually explicit,” or how that term would be defined. On its face, however, the term is vague and could apply to a great deal of classic and contemporary literature, including Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, the Bible, and most works by William Shakespeare.
We hope that Gov. McAuliffe will demonstrate his trust for teachers by vetoing this ill-conceived legislation. Read the full letter below!
CBLDF Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.