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School board talks explicit material policy

A statewide discussion concerning sexually explicit materials in public schools has reached Franklin County.

The topic was broached by Carletta Whiting, Snow Creek District representative, at the Franklin County School Board’s August meeting last week.

“My content was basically in reference to our current library policy for new books that are being purchased and placed into our school libraries that may have sexually-explicit and -graphic [content]...that students can actually go and check out. ... And I know there is SB 656 ... but I think we need to have some additional checks and balances,” Whiting said.

Senate Bill 656 passed the Virginia General Assembly in April. It requires the Virginia Board of Education to develop a model policy for notifying and allowing parents to review sexually explicit content. The bill states that it will not be construed as requiring or providing for censorship, but concerns about such application have arisen.

For example, given historic precedents for the objectification and sexualization of non-explicit representations of LGBTQIA+ culture, some groups have asked the state board to say in the policy that not all LGBTQIA+ depictions are inherently sexual, lest they be censored unfairly.

On the other hand, some simply feel as Arlet Greer, Blackwater District representative, did during the meeting.

“I’ve seen some excerpts and I don’t see the educational purpose in some of them,” Greer said.

The state board has been working on the model policy, and recently closed a public comment period for the draft it has developed. Superintendent Bernice Cobbs said school divisions can look to that draft for an idea of what the policy will be.

“This is just what we know so far, regarding the draft: there is a timeline for implementation and board approval by January 1, 2023. ... Basically it is about parent notification,” Cobbs said. “The first thing schools will be asked to do is look at their instructional materials, first and foremost, and if there are any sexually explicit materials in the instructional materials, then each school is to create a list by a certain time and post the list to its website.”

Second, Cobbs said, the draft requires teachers to notify parents about the use of materials that include sexually-explicit content.

“And that parent has so many days to review those materials. After the review, the parent can opt the child out of that particular lesson and the child would receive an alternate assignment. That is what we know right now,” Cobbs said.

The county school board discussed various possibilities for notification, including one that Cobbs said other divisions are considering.

“Through Destiny, parents can be notified via email if a child checks out a book...any book,” Cobbs said.

The process would be fully automated and would avoid adding to the workload of the division’s media specialists, which was a concern several board members voiced.

Because the process would be so new, Cobbs said the division may suggest a pilot test.

After that, the county school board’s discussion wrapped up. The board did not take any action and the topic was tabled until next month’s meeting.

“We’re going to keep talking about this,” Board Chair Jeff Worley said.

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