In April, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that requires every school, by January 2023, to notify parents when instructional material contains “sexually explicit content” and allow parents to opt into nonexplicit material. (Why sexually explicit content has a place in our public schools to begin with is truly perplexing.)

The Virginia Department of Education was supposed to provide “model policies” for schools last month, but the department is dragging its feet and was still collecting public comments through last week.

The proposed policy, not yet finalized, includes the following recommendations:

  • In labeling content “sexually explicit,” teachers should consider student age and maturity, and whether a parent might reasonably consider the instructional content harmful to their child.
  • Principals must notify parents 30 days in advance when sexually explicit material will be used.
  • Principals must maintain a current list of instructional materials with sexually explicit content by grade and subject on the school’s public website.

It’s time for the department to finalize the proposed policy and for schools to adopt the same—our children are headed into classrooms in the coming weeks, and parents, at a minimum, deserve to know what’s being taught. This should not be a controversial proposition.  

Commenters against the proposal have decried that homosexual authors will be banned from the classroom! Teachers won’t be able to “say gay”! I’m not sure why teachers need to say gay (or straight) in the first place, but that is not what the law actually requires. 

First, the bill addresses parental opt-out, not curriculum or discussions broadly. Opt-out is not a new idea. Many of us attended schools with sex education that allowed for parental opt-out. Topics like sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on by their nature invite cultural and lifestyle commentary, a key domain of parenting. 

Second, the phrase “sexually explicit content” means what it says. The definition is: 

any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual bestiality, a lewd exhibition of nudity, as nudity is defined in Section 18.2-390, sexual excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse, as also defined in Section 18.2-390, coprophilia, urophilia, or fetishism.

Bill opponents have clung to the phrase “sexual conduct” as banning discussion of homosexual people generally. That’s absurd. The definition of sexually explicit content, by its own text, only covers pictures and the like. Moreover, the definition of “sexual conduct” means, under Virginia law

actual or explicitly simulated acts of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks or, if such be female, breast.

I taught sixth graders and let me tell you, classroom material does not need “visual representation” of these things. Teachers can provide an enriching curriculum without it. Shocking, I realize. The parental notification policies that Virginia schools should adopt would go well beyond these narrow definitions.

The issue in Virginia schools is not parental notification of pornographic images in the curriculum. The real issue is: why students are being exposed to sexual material in the first place? One place to look is a 2020 Virginia law that Governor Youngkin and the Virginia legislature must rescind.

As Ginny Gentles, director of the Independent Women’s Forum’s Education Freedom Center, explained recently, the bill mandates the dissolution of sex-based distinctions in the name of transgender inclusion, penalizing such things as father-daughter dances, dress codes, biological pronoun usage, and, girls’ bathrooms. Schools should be mindful of the needs of all of their children, but eliminating biological reality for young children is an entirely different thing. 

But that’s the road we’re on. And when we forget that parents must have a say in the cultural upbringing of their own children, teaching sexually explicit content to children is just one step away.