Loudoun Co. drafting policy to identify sexually explicit materials

School officials in Loudoun County this week will begin discussing how to implement a new Virginia policy that requires parents to be notified any time materials with sexually explicit content will be used in schools.

The county’s Curriculum and Instruction committee is scheduled to meet Thursday night to discuss a draft of what it’s calling Policy 5055, Parental Notice of Sexually Explicit Content.

School boards in Virginia are required to adopt a policy that aligns with state guidelines by Jan. 1.

A draft of Loudoun’s policy says its purpose is to identify materials that may have sexually explicit content, inform parents when such materials are used, allow parents to review the materials and ensure alternative options are available to students should parents request them.

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that directed the state’s Department of Education to create guidelines requiring parents to be informed when materials include sexually explicit content. Some students were critical of the guidelines, saying that under Virginia law, homosexuality is defined as “sexual conduct,” which falls under “sexually explicit conduct.”

In 2021-22, according to school board documents, Loudoun County Public Schools had eight books “elevated for concern.” One book was removed after an appeal to the school board.

The county has 90,000 copies of different titles, not including classroom libraries or curriculum materials, it says.

The school system said books that may identified as having sexually explicit content may include the following:

  • “Kite Runner” by Kahled Hosseini;
  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison;
  • “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng;
  • “The Odyssey” by Homer;
  • “Circe” by Madeline Miller;
  • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by
    Maya Angelou;
  • “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens;
  • “1984” by George Orwell;
  • “Monday is Not Coming” by Tiffany Jackson;
  • “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Nora
    Zeal Hurston;
  • “Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

According to Loudoun’s draft policy, sexually explicit content is defined as “means (i) any description of or (ii) any picture, photograph, drawing, motion 18 picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual bestiality, a 19 lewd exhibition of nudity, as nudity is defined in Va. Code § 18.2-390, sexual 20 excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse, as also defined in Va. Code § 21 18.2-390, coprophilia, urophilia, or fetishism.”

Before the school year starts, the draft policy says, the county will identify materials that may include sexually explicit content that may be used during the year. The policy says teachers, principals and staff should consider “student age and maturity, and whether a parent might reasonably consider the instructional content harmful to their child” when evaluating materials.

The school system, under the draft policy, will provide a written note to parents 30 days before materials that feature sexually explicit content will be used. If a parent prefers an alternative, schools shall provide it “in a manner that is not punitive.”

The draft says alternative materials might not be available for content used for national or state tests like AP, SOL, Dual Enrollment or IB exams.

The policy could impact independent reading, school board documents say, because “students are learning to identify, evaluate, and select instructional materials as part of the research process.”

The draft could appear before the school board as an information item on Nov. 15 or 29, and can be an action item on Nov. 29 or Dec. 13.

The full draft policy is available online.

Last week, the school board in Fauquier County said it started the process of reviewing policies regarding sexually explicit content in library and school board materials.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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