Virginia Board of Education

Do You Know What Your Child Is Reading In School?

In one Fairfax County public high school, reading books with graphic depictions of gang rape, molestation, bestiality and violence toward children without notifying parents is normal operating procedure. Laura Murphy, a parent of students at Lake Braddock Secondary School, was outraged when she found out what her son was required to read for his AP English class. Toni Morrison's book Beloved contains many scenes and references that most would consider inappropriate for a high school class. Ironically, when Murphy attempted to e-mail direct quotes from the book to the Virginia Board of Education, the firewall blocked the e-mail due to its graphic content. Nevertheless, high school students are required to read it. But Lake Braddock Secondary School is not the only school with inappropriate required reading. A New Jersey school district required, until outraged parents recently demanded otherwise, that high school sophomores read a book that contained graphic lesbian sex scenes. In Knoxville, Tenn., high school freshmen are expected to read a book that encourages risqué sexual behavior. And in Fayetteville, Ark., third graders are required to read the book It’s Perfectly Normal, which contains explicit sexual images. Clearly, this is not an isolated problem. But whenever books such as these are challenged by parents, the American Library Association cries that removing these books from required reading lists is equal to censorship.

However, Murphy and other parents are not seeking to have these books banned, although that is often how the media reports it; they merely would like students to be given an opt-out to such books and for parents to be given advanced notification if books with mature content are to be read in the class. Opt-outs are offered for Family Life Education and teachers must send home permission slips if an R-rated movie is to be shown in a class. Books should not be treated differently.

Although her attempts over the past year to make the curriculum more family-friendly have so far been denied, Murphy has pointed out that SB 908/HB 1642 (recently passed bills, which The Family Foundation lobbied for intently last legislative session, becomes law on July 1) gives parents the fundamental right to direct their child's education. After her case was rejected by the school, local school board, and the superintendent, eight members of the Fairfax County Board of Education read the book and chose to let it remain a part of the curriculum, according to The Washington Examiner.

Murphy's next step is to take her case to the State Board of Education. Right now, the Board is gathering other opinions on the issue and will discuss it at its next meeting on June 27. E-mail the Board of Education today and ask it to provide transparency, consistency and choice through their policy decisions. Ask the members, similar to how they handle Family Life Education, to allow alternatives for students so that they are not forced to violate their conscience. You can e-mail the Board at BOE@doe.virginia.gov.

Admin’s note: This blog post was written by Maggie McKneely, one of our 2013 summer college interns.  

Wild Day At General Assembly Ends With Several Victories

With the first two weeks of this year's short session progressing at a less than brisk pace, it was inevitable that the start of the last week before "crossover" would be hectic. Monday did not disappoint. No less than three important sub- or full committee meetings, starting at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. with maxed-out dockets, were scheduled. The House Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments offered up the first good news of the day when it voted to report HJ 684, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), which would allow the Board of Education to approve charter schools as a way to get around obstructionist local school divisions that now have sole authority to approve them — and the reason Virginia only has four charter schools.  Then the House Education Committee heard debate and voted to report HB 1442, the "Tebow Bill," patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle), which would allow homeschooled students to play sports for their local public school; HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Shenandoah), which protects college student groups from allowing membership to those who fundamentally disagree with the organization's mission; and HB 1871, a bullying definition bill successfully amended to ensure that it punishes bullies not based on the characteristics of the victim, but on the act of the bully. Additional language added to the bill ensures First Amendment protections.

Passage of the homeschool sports bill and the college student group protection act are legislative priorities for The Family Foundation. The latter would allow student groups at Virginia state colleges to organize according to their beliefs. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have enacted "all-comers" policies that essentially eliminate these groups from being able to set criteria for their members and leaders. Free association is protected by the constitution and this bill seeks to clarify that. It passed by a 19-2 vote. It also passed a similar bill affecting children of military personnel who constantly are re-stationed at various bases or deployed, but whose children stay in the same area with a relative.

Then, the shocker of the day: Overcoming the predictable opposition of the public schools, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 to report the Parents Rights Bill, SB 908, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg). It reaffirms Virginia court rulings that parental rights are "fundamental" into state code. This is significant, because fundamental rights are treated with much more deference by the judiciary than "ordinary" rights.

The afternoon was busier. Senator Ralph Northam (D-6, Norfolk) introduced his second bill of the session in the Education and Health Committee to repeal the ultrasound update to Virginia's informed consent law. Because of its redundancy, committee chairman Senator Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), wasted no time in public debate and it died quickly on an 8-3 vote, prompting Senator Northam to call the committee a "kangaroo court."

The House Courts of Justice Committee had a full docket as well. After debate, it killed on a 10-6 vote HB 1644, patroned by Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39, Annandale), which would have changed the definition of birth control in the Virginia Code to include abortifacients, including the morning after pill. While advocates claimed it was an innocuous bill, it would have forced pharmacists against their conscience to dispense abortifacients to those 17 and younger. Later, after many questions of concern their Senate counterparts did not have, the committee voted to pass by until Friday the House version of the Parents Rights Bill, HB1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City).

Please contact members of the House Courts of Justice Committee and urge them, especially if your delegate is on the committee, to pass HB 1642, to secure basic, fundamental rights of Virginia parent in state code! 

Please also contact your senator to vote yes on SB 908 on the Senate floor and no to any motion that would re-refer it to committee or otherwise kill it.

If that wasn't enough, sub-committee meetings started in the evening, highlighted by one of the most talked about bills of session, "The Right To Farm Act," a property rights bill. The highlight of that meeting is detailed in a brief, must read post, here.

Things are moving quickly this week. Please watch your e-mail, this blog and our Facebook and Twitter accounts — which often allow us to update you on events much more quickly — to get the latest news and information on what action to take with your delegates and senators in promoting traditional, conservative family values policies  in Virginia.