Parents given more power in the classroom

In April 2022, the Virginia Senate adopted Senate Bill 656, which addresses sexual content in school instructional materials.

At the crux of the legislation, parent involvement in what materials their child sees is increased.

The bill states schools must construct policies to identify sexually explicit content in instructional materials, notify parents about the identified materials and provide alternative options.
In response to community concerns, the FCPS policy adapted in compliance with the bill includes a reassurance that content cannot be designated as “sexually explicit” just due to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters.

English teacher Matthew Horne said he foresees the bill will have two effects.

“One, it’s going to get more students to opt out,” Horne said. “Two, it’s going to make teachers fearful of teaching any books that step on that line, because it’s another step; they have to do another battle; they’re going to have more emails.”

Horne said this burden is placed on those who are already overworked.

“Morale is at an all time low in this job, and teachers are leaving at an all time high rate,” he said.

LGBTQ+ Perspectives in Literature teacher Apoorva Johri said she wonders what the bill means for her class.

“I am concerned about how all of this is going to impact classes like LGBTQ+ Perspectives in Literature, what that class might end up looking like and the contents of that class,” Johri said.

Johri placed these concerns within the context of what she saw as longstanding misunderstandings.

“I think just historically, we know that a lot of queer literature and queer media has been misconceived as being sexually explicit.”

Amid concerns for the future of LGBTQ+ characters in school books, FCPS issued policy 3290.

The new county policy protects against the “the designation of instructional material as sexually explicit based solely upon the sexual orientation of the characters contained therein.”

English teacher Martha Noone said she was initially concerned about the Senate bill.

However, these worries were quelled for Noone by a staff meeting last week, which clarified the bill’s reference to “homosexuality” and the implications of policy 3290.

“We found we were all kind of incensed initially because [the words in the policy seemed] very targeted,” Noone said. “However, by the time we were done with the meeting, they assured us it was just to be a list under the umbrella.”

Although some curriculum changes could follow, these changes may ultimately affect students.

Junior Zoe Mazur expressed concern with the bill’s impact on parent involvement in students’ education.

“I think it’s a huge oversight, a breach of the power that parents should have over their kids and over other people’s kids,” Mazur said.

Bill 656 is the newest installment in the ongoing debate over parents’ stake in K-12 educational content. The full impact of the bill is yet to be seen.