The Virginia Association of Teachers of English (VATE) has sent a response to the Virginia Board of Education regarding the proposed notice and options for parents which relate to sexually explicit instructional materials and a proposed amendment to the Regulations Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions (Standards Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions, 5 8VAC20-720-160 Instructional Materials).
VATE respectfully disagrees with the Board of Education’s proposed updates on the following grounds:
Present regulation requires that local schools boards have policies in place that allow parents to review any instructional materials, especially those that are deemed “sensitive or controversial”. As “sexually explicit” content would fall within one or both of the previously mentioned categories, the addition of this language serves no purpose other than to label books.
VATE believes that collaboration with parents and students is an integral part of education. Adding a label to a text reduces a work to isolated scenes or instances of language, thus undermining the collaborative conversation between parents and teachers.
Given that Virginia is a state that benefits from great diversity, we must exercise caution in privileging the views of an individual or small group. Decisions regarding community standards are best regulated by local school boards rather than state organizations.
VATE supports the inclusion of the following components:
updating the language to be inclusive of parents and guardians
incorporating an allowance for alternate assignments in response to a parent/guardian concern, and the inclusion of more choice in text, especially in the English classroom
notifying parents (within reason) of materials that will be used in the classroom without any special identification. For example, it would make sense to list the textbook, but not all included works; supplemental trade books or films that may not have been part of the formal adoption process; supplemental materials such as a local paper or magazine subscription, but not the individual articles (a these hopefully change to reflect current events). As an increasing number of teachers are required to maintain webpages that have assignments posted; this provides another venue for facilitating parent/teacher communication about course content.
The VATE statement continues: While it is prudent to ensure that the curriculum in our courses is not a secret, that parents can access the curriculum, and that local divisions and teachers make provisions for alternate assignments in special circumstances, the inclusion of language that serves only to label texts driven by the concerns of a small, but active parent group, is unnecessary regulatory overreach on the part of the state, undermines the essential collaboration between parents, students, and teachers, and attempts to supersede community standards enacted by local school boards in accordance with the communities they represent. We respectfully ask that the Board of Education remove the language regarding denoting texts as “sexually explicit” from their updated regulations.
If you would like to share your thoughts, the Virginia BOE is accepting public comments at EnglishSOL_2016@doe.virginia.gov.