Should explicit material be taught? Buckingham schools change their policy

Published 11:34 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2022

DILLWYN – How do you define sexually explicit content? Who decides what is and isn’t appropriate for students in Buckingham schools to read? After some policy changes adopted by the Buckingham County School Board, parents will be part of that decision. 

During their Wednesday, Nov. 9 meeting, the board added a couple things to their policy on instructional materials. Even before this, if a parent had requested, they could have inspected any instructional materials from their child’s curriculum. 

“We have always maintained transparency with our curriculum,” said Superintendent Dr. John Keeler. “The additions to this policy define sexually explicit content (and) would allow the superintendent to set up a process for identifying sexually explicit content in instructional materials.” 

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Keeler told the board the proposed changes give a process for notifying parents. That way, parents understand they have an option. If they deem the content inappropriate, they can opt their child out and receive an alternative assignment. 

“This policy is about giving parents a choice,” Keeler said. “Currently, we do not have sexually explicit content in our instructional materials.” 

However, he added, in the future books meeting the definition could be required for Advanced Placement or dual enrollment courses. Keeler said that’s why he felt Buckingham schools needed to put a policy in place now. 

“If that is ever the case, we would work with parents to find the best option for their child,” Keeler said, “if remaining in the course is not a possibility.” 

The new policy defines sexually explicit content as “any description of or any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual beastiality, a lewd exhibition of nudity, as defined in this policy, sexual excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse, as defined in this policy, coprophilia, urophilia (or) fetishism.”  

Making changes in Buckingham schools

Instructional materials can’t be labeled as sexually explicit just because there are LGBTQ references. That’s one thing the new policy makes clear.  

“Instructional materials shall not be designated as sexually explicit based solely on the sexual orientation of the characters therein,” the policy states. 

One somewhat controversial part of the new policy comes in when parents are notified. 

“Principals will provide written notice to parents at least 30 days prior to the use of any instructional materials with sexually explicit content,” the policy says. 

That written note has to specifically identify the sexually explicit content. It also has to inform parents of their right to review the instructional materials and of their right for the child to use another test or assignment. 

The time involved concerned some school board members. 

“At least 30 days prior? Are teachers able to have their plans 30 days in advance to do that?” asked Buckingham County School Board Member Rachel Castello-Dunn. “We just want to make sure that teachers can do their job.” 

Keeler said for most teachers in the district, that shouldn’t be a problem. 

“A veteran teacher would know their lessons from one year to the next, because they’re not going to change,” Keeler said. “I think where you have to be careful is with a new teacher, first or second year. But having a mentor teacher there will help avoid that.” 

Raising some opposition

Another school board member, Maysville representative Joii Goodman, opposed the policy. He didn’t feel there was enough in the document giving teachers a say in the matter. 

“Our teachers are highly qualified professionals and I want to ensure that there is a process by which their input is given reasonable consideration,” Goodman said. “I respect the rights of parents to make informed decisions about their child’s learning, but I also want to recognize the fact that our teachers are professionals and professional judgment is valuable.” 

The motion passed with Goodman as the only one in opposition. Principals and teachers will receive the full text over the next few weeks, before it takes effect.