Amid book ban, parents in Virginia push for more ‘power’ over what kids can read in school libraries

As cultural debates over access to books rage in school districts across the country, a Virginia Republican legislator hopes to make it easier for parents to control what their children read in public school libraries.

“In school libraries in Commonwealth countries, there are books in the bookstores that are very sexual in nature,” Virginia delegate Tim Anderson told ABC News.

“We have to give parents more power over schools and what their children can access while they are in schools,” he added.

Anderson, a Republican who represents parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, said he plans to introduce a bill that would identify titles with “sexual content” and implement a rating system for library books that is primarily based on the motion picture Society’s film rating system. Books will be marked with “Parental Advisory Warning” signs and parents will be able to exclude their children from reading books with a specific rating.

Virginia Republican delegate Tim Anderson poses with his family in an undated photo. Anderson told ABC News he is drafting legislation that would push “Parent Advisory Warning” stickers on state library books amid concerns about sexual content.

Courtesy of Tim Anderson

He said titles will be rated from G, suitable for all audiences, to R, which limits content to children under 17. If a child is under the age of 17, they may access the Content with the supervision of a parent or guardian.

“This puts parents back in the driver’s seat,” Anderson said of the legislation he proposed.

Anderson, a lawyer, filed a lawsuit in May that attempted to stop Barnes & Noble for selling books containing sexual content to children. The lawsuit, which a Virginia Beach court judge dismissed last month, is titled to the graphic novel “Gender Queer” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” — two books that have been challenged or banned in various school districts across the country.

According to ABC affiliate ABC in Hampton, Virginia, WVEC, Judge Pamela Baskerville dismissed the case because Virginia law does not give circuit courts the authority to determine whether the book is obscene to minors.

Anderson said that since the lawsuit failed, he is now “looking for a legislative solution.”

Virginia Senator Ghazala Hashemi, a Democrat, told WJLA, an affiliate of ABC in Washington, D.C., that the potential bill was “extremely concerning.”

“I am concerned about this subset of parents who think they can legislate what children read, and that their children can read this material,” Hashemi said. “Massively, the books we’re seeing are being targeted by minority authors or by LGBT authors. It’s unfortunate that they continue to push their own perspective toward other families.”

Yael Levine-Sheldon, a Virginia parent and communications officer for No Left Turn in Education, told ABC News that the nonprofit is part of a national coalition advocating a rating system and “fully supports” Anderson’s proposal.

“We believe strongly in the First Amendment and in the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children,” said Levine-Sheldon. “Appropriately categorizing books based on content, just as with movies, is a logical way to allow parents to determine which books are acceptable to their children, without imposing their own standards and values ​​on other parents and their children.”

Books have been banned in at least 26 states and 86 school districts, including at least seven in Virginia, according to PEN America, a nonprofit that promotes freedom of expression through literature,

A PEN America report documenting book bans in school libraries and classrooms from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, shows that the rise in bans reflects “disproportionate targeting of books by or about people whose identities and stories have traditionally been underrepresented in children.” and youth literature, such as people of color, LGBT people, or people with disabilities.”

Photo: Yael Levine-Sheldon, Communications Officer for No Left Turn in Education, with her husband.

Yael Levin Sheldon, chief communications officer for No Left Turn in Education, with her husband. Levine is also president of the organization’s Virginia chapter and an advocate for parental involvement in education.

Courtesy of Yael Levin Sheldon

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin signed into law a bill in April that would give parents the power to exclude their children from educational content in classrooms deemed “sexually explicit.”

The Republican governor hailed the signing of Senate Bill 656 as fulfilling “my first day” promises to give parents a greater role in their children’s education.

But critics who opposed the legislation argued that what was described as “genderly explicit” was too vague and that the law would make it easier for conservative advocates and organized groups to target and censor LGBT content.

“While SB 656 may not impose explicit censorship on books being taught, it puts teachers and librarians in the unenviable position of having to determine whether a book qualifies under the policies,” the ACLU said in an April 8 statement. As the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement on April 8. It will likely lead to censorship due to fear or confusion of the teacher and librarian about what is considered “explicit sexual content.”

Anderson, a father of three, argued that the law restored “parents’ rights” by giving them more power over the materials their children learn in the classroom. Now he hopes that the bill, which he plans to introduce in the coming weeks, will do the same when it comes to books available in public school libraries.

“This is not about gay, liberated, or straight literature,” he said, responding to the argument that the bill could lead to censorship. “This is about literature and books that have sexual content in them.”

The legislation Anderson proposed is one of several initiatives in the state that seek to give parents more control over the materials their children can access in schools.

As kids return to the classroom this fall, Bedford County School Libraries in Virginia have launched a new notification system that allows parents to receive alerts about the books their children check out outside the library.

“In response to some of the concerns a community member has raised about content in libraries and curricula, we’ve already had a year-long conversation about how we can be more transparent and educate parents,” said Sean Trosper, Curriculum Director. and education for the school system, according to ABC affiliate in Lynchburg, WSET.

Levine-Sheldon, who leads the Virginia chapter of No Left Turn in Education, told ABC News she supports the alert system and hopes it will be implemented in additional counties across the state.

“At the end of the day, we just want parents to have a choice in what their children are exposed to,” she said. “Because that choice is our choice… that right is ours.”

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