Banned books? Not quite

Virginia passes Bill 656


Marissa DeSimas, Staff Writer

On April 6, 2022, the General Assembly of Virginia passed Bill 656. According to Virginia’s Legislative Information System the bill: 

Requires the Department of Education develop no later than July 31, 2022, model policies and each local school board to adopt no later than January 1, 2023, policies for ensuring parental notification of any instructional material that includes sexually explicit content and include information, guidance, procedures, and standards relating to (i) ensuring parental notification; (ii) directly identifying the specific instructional material and sexually explicit subjects; and (iii) permitting the parent of any student to review instructional material that includes sexually explicit content and provide, as an alternative, nonexplicit instructional material and related academic activities to any student whose parent so requests. 

Essentially this means that teachers are required to send out an opt-out form for parents to fill out if a class is reading novels, short stories, etc, that have sexual content. If a parent decides to opt- out their child, the teacher must provide an alternative lesson for the student. 

Although this bill may create challenges for teachers, especially English teachers, English teacher Victoria Macoul sees it as another opportunity for good communication between teachers and parents.

I feel that communicating with parents which novels are being read in the classroom can help to foster discussion and exploration at home,” said Macoul.

According to Virginia’s Legislative Information System, “local school board policies shall be consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Department.” This means that all Virginia school districts need to at least meet the standards of the bill, but they can be stricter if they want. Currently, the Virginia Beach City Public School’s policy appears to be following the bill closely. A final policy has to be adopted by school districts, including our own, no later than January 1, 2023. 

Literacy Coach Carly Krekorian will be a leader in helping all teachers at Salem conform to the bill.

“I think most teachers will do some kind of book preview or book tasting before introducing them to allow students to have a choice,” said Krekorian

Examples of some books currently in the English curriculum that might require a parent opt-out option include Ready Player One, 1984, and The Handmaid’s Tale

Senior Kiley Feight is considering a career in education.

“I think it’s neat that parents have the option, but it seems kinda extra,” said Feight. “I could see that it makes sense for middle schoolers, but we’re in high school.”

Feight added that “it could be really difficult for teachers to find an alternative” text. 

“They chose the book for a reason and it might be difficult to find another book that can help them teach the same things,” said Feight.

“I won’t be changing the novels that are taught in English 12, but I will be expanding my parent communication to include notices when we are starting new pieces,”  said Macoul.