VICTORY in Virginia: State Board Rejects Classroom Censorship Proposal

Beloved Toni MorrisonVICTORY in Virginia! At a meeting last week, the state Board of Education rejected a proposed regulation that would have required schools to warn parents about educational materials containing “sexually explicit” content. CBLDF and our partners in the National Coalition Against Censorship sent multiple letters opposing the regulation and the nearly identical bill that passed through the state’s General Assembly last year before it wasvetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

That bill was conceived under pressure from a small group of parents led by the mother of a now college-aged student who was disturbed by the content of Toni Morrison’s Beloved when it was assigned to his AP English class in 2015. In his veto statement, Gov. McAuliffe wrote that the legislation “lack[ed] flexibility and would require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context.” Nevertheless, after failing the legislative route it was revived as a proposed administrative regulation last fall.

The seven-member Board of Education debated the proposal for two hours at the meeting last Thursday night, taking into consideration the 171 public comments they’d received–most in opposition to the plan. Ultimately, only two members voted to adopt the change and the remaining five rejected it. In addition to the concerns over censorship, the majority also took into account the fact that Virginia’s Constitution says day-to-day management of schools is to be left to local school boards. This point is bolstered by state judicial precedent, as NCAC pointed out in the most recent letter sent last week.

Even though the proposed regulation was defeated, the censorship battle is still not finished. The same state delegate who first introduced the ‘Beloved bill’ last year has filed another version in the current legislative session. No action has been taken on that bill yet, but we’ll be watching!

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.