Education should open doors to conversation and dialogue, not close them. Yet, in 2022, Virginia lawmakers passed Senate Bill 656 (sponsored by Senator Dunnavant) that allows parents to make demands of teachers and librarians based on their individual viewpoints over what qualifies as “sexually explicit content,” without taking into account the value of the instructional materials as a whole.
The definition of “sexually explicit” in Virginia’s law is so broad and vague that it could include books by LGBTQ+ authors and about LGBTQ+ experiences. This means a parent could make a book like George by Alex Gino inaccessible to the entire classroom based on a single scene or paragraph. As importantly, the bill discounts the expertise of educators who are trained to teach students about complex concepts and subjects, and keeps students from being exposed to diverse viewpoints and stories. This new law will further disrupt the education of young children and keep classrooms from being thriving grounds for free speech and understanding.
Virginia’s children deserve a public education that opens their minds to varied people and perspectives. They deserve to grow up into well-rounded individuals who can think for themselves, who value truth, diversity, equity, and justice, and who realize Virginia is better when it makes a space for all of its people. Let’s be clear, this law has the potential of eliminating discussions of race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, and how they intersect in the teaching of history, literature, and health in our schools.
Now is the time to speak out for students’ right to learn. Here are a few actions you can take:
- Attend your local school board meetings
- Write to your school board members
- Write a letter to the editor to your local newspapers
- Post on social media
- Rally people in your network to show up with you
Refer to the guide below for talking points and information about SB 656.