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.