Parents Deserve to Know What Kids Are Being Taught - So Why Is This State Preventing It?

Meg Kilgannon is Senior Fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Western Journal on October 1, 2021.

Last week a mom read aloud to the Fairfax County School Board excerpts from library books found in an FCPS library.

Shocking sexually explicit material was included in these books. Fortunately, parents are more aware than ever of what students are learning and the resources that are available to them. But this is not a new fight in Virginia. Not by a longshot.

The final debate in Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign gave us a glimpse into the heart of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and a brief history lesson about parental rights in Virginia is now in order.

Does McAuliffe really believe it’s his responsibility to “not … let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions”?

Does he really believe what he said at the debate: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach”? We know that he does, because he proved it at least twice in his previous stint as governor.

In 2016 and 2017, two separate bills (nicknamed the “Beloved” bills after the Toni Morrison novel) that provided notice to parents and students about sexually explicit material in assigned books were introduced in the Virginia General Assembly. Unknown to parents or students, within various assigned books (especially in AP courses) were instances of pedophilia, rape and even bestiality.

Since presumably, the teacher assigning the books would know about their content, simply notifying parents of that content is not much to ask. The education lobby maintained that parents should have to read all the assigned books to find out which ones had explicit sexual content. But if schools are truly partnering with parents, why the secrecy?

Why not disclose to the parents what is going to be read by their children, which the teachers well know is in the material? What about the rape victim in class who will be assigned a book that will depict the heinous crime committed against her? Does she have the right to know?

Both bills passed with bipartisan support as Republicans and Democrats agreed that parents should be informed when their child is assigned books containing graphic sexually explicit content. Remember when Republicans and Democrats could agree on things?

To be clear, both bills continued to give teachers complete autonomy in the book selection process. What both bills simply provided was a notice to both students and parents of potentially graphic sexually explicit content within the assigned material.

Students then had the ability to request an alternative book. Requesting an alternative assignment is not unusual or unprecedented. Some students have religious objections to animal dissection assignments in biology classes, for example. Those students are allowed an alternative assignment. Students who do not attend field trips for whatever reason are given alternate work.

Bowing to pressure from education lobbyists for teachers unions and publishers, in 2016, then-Gov. McAuliffe vetoed the first of the bills. Undeterred, parents continued to press for this modest request — simple notification that their child might be confronted with literature containing salacious descriptions of sexual acts.

Seeking to accommodate (overblown) concerns about “censorship” ginned up by groups like the ACLU and Pen America, the 2017 bill was more specific. While still ensuring teacher control over the book selection process, the bill required notifying parents of books that include acts that actually are considered felony crimes in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Again, the books could still be assigned. The only requirement was parental notification about content considered a sex crime in the state where that material would be read by minors.

This allowed for the ability to distinguish between books like “Romeo and Juliet” or “To Kill a Mockingbird” and gratuitously explicit or age-inappropriate books containing acts that constitute felony sex crimes in most states.

The second bill narrowed the scope of notifying parents to those acts that actually are considered felony crimes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This way books like “Romeo and Juliet” would not be flagged, but books containing graphic depictions of rape, incest, pedophilia and bestiality would.

McAuliffe vetoed these bipartisan bills two years in a row.

While there was unity between Democrats and Republicans as to this commonsense measure, McAuliffe decided to veto both bills. With a disdain for parents that was on full display at the final debate of this campaign, then-Gov. McAuliffe did the bidding of education lobbyists rather than honor the role that parents play in our children’s lives.

We don’t have to wonder who he will listen to if he wins again. It won’t be parents.