ASHBURN, Va.—A new policy (pdf) on parental notice of sexually explicit content in instructional materials was discussed at a Loudoun County School Board committee meeting on Sept. 22.
The policy—Policy 5055—is required by a new law enacted in Virginia in April. The law stipulates that parents should be notified of sexually explicit content and have the right to request the use of alternative instructional materials for their children.
According to the law, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) shall issue model policies, and school boards shall adopt them or a more comprehensive version by Jan. 1, 2023. The tentative timeline discussed at the curriculum and instruction committee meeting was to refer the draft policy to the entire school board on Nov. 7 for discussions at the end of November and a vote by mid-December.
While LCPS school libraries have 90,000 books of different titles, eight books were challenged during the 2021–2022 school year, and one—“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe—was removed from school libraries, Neil Slevin, Loudoun County Public Schools’ (LCPS) executive director of teaching and learning, said at the meeting.
Board member Harris Mahedavi asked if there would be a rating system to define what books would be appropriate for which age groups. While Slevin responded that he was not aware of any book rating systems, he said LCPS would try to “implement more checks and balances” in the book procurement process.
“We are asking librarians to slow down, have a conversation with their principal, and have conversations with families and the community. There are connections with a lot of parent volunteers in our libraries. Have a conversation with central office library staff,” he said.
During his presentation, he spoke about concerns regarding needing extra money and resources to review all instructional materials in LCPS. Library materials qualify in scope only when they are used for an assignment or an academic or extracurricular educational program. Reviewing dynamic content on online instructional platforms was another concern.
The model policies require a 30-day notice to parents about sexually explicit content. District officials expressed concern that this might affect the timeliness of deciding on books or materials for research or independent reading projects.
Ashley Ellis, LCPS deputy superintendent in charge of instruction, said that the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) was expected to issue its policy guidance in October, and the guidance wouldn’t be much different from the VDOE model policies.
“I’m not even sure why there would be separate model policies, to be honest,” Ellis stated in response to committee Chair Ian Serotkin’s question about whether getting VSBA model policies was a normal process.
“We are still on schedule per our normal process to release this information next month,” Kenita Matthews, VSBA’s director of communications, told The Epoch Times in an email. “As for the overall status of Virginia school boards in getting ready for adoption by Jan. 1, that is determined locally at each individual school board’s discretion.”
Parent Felt Neglected and ‘Offended’
Michael Rivera, a detective at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and a school board candidate in the November election, said he contacted school board members three times but got no response. He questioned the material review process in the draft policy, which said the materials would be reviewed by “district and school staff.”
“We may have all sorts of folks as a part of the group to review sexually explicit content. But parents are nowhere to be found,” Rivera told committee chair Serotkin and Mahedavi. Atoosa Reaser, the third committee member, was absent.
“What needs to happen is that [Policy] 5055 needs to include school and classroom library materials subject to the scrutiny of being sexually explicit,” he added. Because the draft policy applies to instructional materials only, library materials qualify when they are used for an assignment or an academic or extracurricular educational program.
Clint Thomas, a father of two daughters currently in a Loudoun County high school and another three who graduated from LCPS, told the school board committee members, “As a parent, I’m really offended that we would even have to have a policy on how to administer and use sexually explicit content in our schools.”
He advocated for allowing parents to opt-in with instructional materials instead of opting out until LCPS completed its review of materials.
‘Insult to Teachers’
Erika Weiskopf spoke on behalf of her mother, Andrea Weiskopf, an LCPS teacher. She urged LCPS not to “blindly accept this mandate.”
“LCPS must stand up for its students and staff,” she said.
“This policy is a pretense to strip books about diverse characters and by diverse authors from our schools and our children. Additionally, requiring teachers to give 30 days notice before using material is an insult to teachers who have been licensed and endorsed by this very Commonwealth.”
In November 2021, neighboring Fairfax County returned two books—Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy”—to school libraries after temporarily pulling them off the shelves due to a challenge.
Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t respond to Epoch Times’ question about its current progress in adopting the model policies; The Epoch Times didn’t find any public record of past or planned discussions on the subject.