“Beloved” Bill: House Bill No. 516
Stemming from parent concerns regrading specific literature taught in Virginia public schools, a bill to amend the Code of Virginia was introduced in early January, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave (AMI Newswire). Toni Morrison’s Beloved, one of the American Library Association’s 10 most-challenged books in the nation, details the life of slavery, inlcuding incest and child molestation, and is believed to have spurred parent outrage.
The proposed addition to HB 516 would require each public elementary or secondary school to notify parents when assigned readings include sexually explicit content and to provide an alternative assignment at a parent’s request: “HB 516 would direct the State Board of Education to create a policy for flagging mature content and notifying parents” (NBC 29).
In March, the bill passed passed the House of Delegates 98-0. The Senate approved the measure 22-17. But some believe “this is a slippery slope to backdoor censorship,” said 49th District Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D). In fact, the National Coalition for Free Speech said the Landes bill “would prejudice educationally valuable content,” and cited a number of works, including “The Canterbury Tales,” the Bible and “most works by William Shakespeare” as examples of material that could be banned in classrooms (AMI Newswire). Loudoun teachers have weighed in as well. The Loudoun Times-Mirror reports that “in February, Rock Ridge High School advanced placement literature and language teacher Jessica Berg sent a letter to all Virginia state senators urging them not to pass HB 516. Black (R-13th) responded with a lengthy email condemning the teacher for her stance, referring to the book as “moral sewage” (Loudoun Times-Mirror).
In early April, Governor McAuliffe vetoed the bill, stating that the board of education “is already considering this issue in a broader and more complete context,” and that the bill’s “lack of flexibility” would “require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context.”
But just this week, the
House voted overwhelmingly to override the veto (66-34), but failled by one vote.
The controversial bill has drawn national attention.