Virginia Library Association Concerns About Proposed Amendment to 8VAC-131-270

On November 22, VLA President Keith Weimer emailed Dr. Cynthia Cave, Assistant Superintendent, Policy & Communications of the Virginia Department of Education, regarding an Agenda item titled First Review of Proposed Amendments to the Regulations Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions (8VAC 20-720) Regarding Use of Sexually Explicit Instructional Materials (Proposed Stage). The document is available on the Virginia Department of Education website. 

The American Library Association, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL), and the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom will also be sending letters regarding this proposed regulation.

VLA has gotten confirmation from Dr. Cave that our letter has been received and has been added to the public comment file. For more history about this issue, please visit VLA's February 26, 2016 statement on HB 516.

November 22, 2016

Dr. Cynthia A. Cave
Assistant Superintendent, Policy & Communications
Virginia Department of Education
PO Box 2120
Richmond, VA 23218

Dear Dr. Cave,

The Virginia Library Association, representing more than 1,000 members from academic, public, special and school libraries across the Commonwealth, is a leading advocate for intellectual freedom, including the freedom to read as a basic tenet. We write to express our reservations about a proposed amendment to 8VAC-131-270, which will require public schools to "include a notice to parents identifying any sexually explicit materials that may be included in the course, the textbook, or any supplemental instructional materials." We believe the proposed requirement is nearly identical to the requirements contained in HB 516, which was vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe in the spring. Aside from the First Amendment concerns this proposed amendment raises, we also believe it threatens the quality of education for students across the Commonwealth. We strongly encourage the Department to reject the adoption of this proposed regulation.

  • We believe the concerns that led to the drafting of HB 516 and now this proposed regulation are best addressed through local Board of Education policy rather than prescribed by regulation of the Commonwealth of Virginia, both to protect the interests of all stakeholders and to provide for flexibility when necessary.
  • We support parents being actively involved in their children’s education; at the same time, we believe labeling places the weight of responsibility wrongly on teachers to make judgments about what a diverse range of parents may or may not deem “sexually explicit.”
  • We believe institutional labeling of books or media (by policy or law) is a form of censorship. We believe parents, students, and teachers can work together to make the best choice when there is a disagreement about what is age appropriate for an individual student.
  • We believe this sort of regulation can turn institutional labeling into self-censorship by educators or others in an effort to avoid the conflicts and challenges intended, thereby depriving students the opportunity to be exposed to a wider range of viewpoints to choose from in developing their personal opinions. Decreasing the range of viewpoints discourages the promotion of diversity and diminishes intellectual rigor.

We hope you will stand on the side of intellectual freedom and the right to read, and reject this proposed regulatory change.
Keith Weimer, President
Virginia Library Association

CC: Governor Terry McAuliffe
Dr. Dietra Trent, Secretary of Education