‘Sexually Explicit’ Books Could Be Under Fire In Virginia Schools

If a new proposal passes, parents could have the power to veto reading list titles.

Last week The Washington Post reported on a Virginia bill proposal that would force school districts to highlight which books on a given syllabus contain sensitive or “sexually explicit” material.

“All local school boards would be required to set up a way for parents to opt out of objectionable materials; teachers would have to provide replacement texts for those who ask for them,” Washington Post writes.

News of the bill proposal, reportedly being drafted and considered by the Virginia Board of Education, comes shortly after two classic novels were pulled from the bookshelves of Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia. 

The proposal resembles a bill that the state’s governor vetoed last year. Nevertheless, its implications have educators and activists vocally worried.

The chief concern: such a rule could prevent young readers from accessing stories of literary and educational merit. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha -- celebrated classics -- are among the many books that’ve been banned or challenged due to sexual content since 2014.

And, in the past, books deemed “sexually explicit” have often been titles featuring queer characters or women asserting their sexual personhood. For access to be cut off to such stories could be damaging to kids who otherwise have no way of meeting fictional representations of their own experiences. According to the American Library Association, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson’s And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin, is regularly featured on the organization's annual list of most-challenged titles.

If a progressive book (or, at least, an innocuous one) is regularly red-flagged, it seems that red-flagging could put any title -- classic or new and innovative -- at risk.



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