RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia schools will have to alert parents if books or other materials their children are assigned have sexually explicit content and provide an alternative option if they want one by next year under a bill signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
The measure signed by Gov. Youngkin (R) this week requires the Virginia Board of Education to develop policies by July 31 that will ensure “parental notification of any instructional material that includes sexually explicit content.” Each local school board must adopt these policies by 2023.
The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Dunnavant (R-Henrico), passed with the help of two Senate Democrats who voted with Republicans in favor of the bill.
The measure was one of the legislative priorities for Youngkin, who campaigned on giving parents more oversight in education ahead of the 2022 General Assembly session.
The governor lauded its passage, saying in a statement after signing the bill into law that it delivered on his “Day One promises to give parents a greater say in their children’s education.”
The bill defines “sexually explicit content” the same way it is in the state code, which defines it as “any description of or any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual bestiality, a lewd exhibition of nudity, sexual excitement, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse, coprophilia, urophilia, or fetishism.”
According to the bill, the policies from the state’s Department of Education should include guidance relating to:
- ensuring parental notification
- directly identifying the specific instructional material and sexually explicit subjects
- permitting the parent of any student to review instructional material that includes sexually explicit content and provide, as an alternative, nonexplicit instructional material and related academic activities to any student whose parent so requests
State Democrats and groups, including the Virginia Education Association, came out in opposition of the bill before it was passed. They argued the measure would lead to unneeded censorship and could get books removed from schools.
Democrats added that the legislation would interfere with lesson plans and that teachers can make decisions on the appropriate learning materials. Some pointed out that school districts already notify parents of teaching materials and give them a way to opt out.
Sen. Dunnavant and other Republicans countered that the bill didn’t ban any particular book, but only gave parents notification and the option to request alternative materials for their children.
“This shall not be construed as requiring or providing for censoring of any books because that would be objectionable and it is not the intent of the bill. This is the opportunity for parents to have a conversation with their child,” Dunnavant said during a Senate committee meeting in February.