FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (DC News Now) — There’s more controversy over what happens in Virginia classrooms. Hours before the public comment opportunity closes for the State Board of Education’s model policies concerning instructional materials with sexually explicit content, a student-led group is raising red flags.
The bill, SB656, was signed into law by Governor Youngkin back in April after a mostly party-line vote in the General Assembly. It directs the Board of Education to craft a policy to “ensure parental notification” of “sexually explicit content” taught in schools.
But some are confused about what is and what isn’t considered sexually explicit.
“I’m stepping up too to make sure what needs to get done gets done,” said Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter, a high school student in Fairfax County.
Vizcardo-Lichter wrote a letter to the BOE and got signatures from over 600 students in Virginia. The letter raises concerns about what is considered sexually explicit.
The draft policy cites Virginia code, which includes “simulated acts of masturbation,” “fetishism,” and “sexual bestiality” as examples of sexually explicit.
But it also includes “homosexuality.”
“When you kind of dug deeper into what it was actually saying, it’s a very dangerous bill,” Vizcardo-Lichter said.
She said lumping sexual orientation in with those other topics is wrong, and she wants those crafting the policy to be clear.
“What we’re looking for [from] the Virginia Department of Education is for them to clarify that the mention or teaching of LGBTQIA+ people is not inherently sexual,” she said.
DC News Now reached out to Youngkin’s team, which directed us to the Department of Education, which said in a statement: “Superintendent Balow is in receipt of the letter and is appreciative of the students’ comments — and of all of the thoughts and opinions shared by students, parents, teachers and other Virginians during the public comment period. After reviewing all of the submitted comments, the department will communicate a final document to school divisions to inform the adoption of local policies by January 1, 2023, as required by Senate Bill 656.”
It was a divisive piece of legislation when it was brought up in Richmond. Republicans said it bolstered parents’ rights, and that’s what got the current governor elected.
“This is not radical, this is not censorship, it is just information,” said Sen. Jill Vogel back in February. She represents Fauquier County and the 27th District.
But Democrats said it’s unnecessary, especially since some school already require parental approval for sex ed classes.
“I do not think this legislation is helpful or needed,” Sen. Barbara Favola, who represents parts of Fairfax County, Arlington County, and the City of Alexandria, said in February.
As of 9:30 p.m., there were over 1,650 public comments posted on this topic. Some blasted the bill, comparing it to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” policy. Others said it’s not strong enough.
“I think the Senate Bill 656 should be strengthened to allow parents to have an option for their children to learn the Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage approach to life if that better represents their family beliefs and morals,” wrote on commenter under the name “A concerned CHRISTIAN parent.”
Rabbi David Spinrad from Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria wrote: “As a Virginia resident, I believe that classrooms should be a place where students are free to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn about diverse viewpoints. The proposed model policies could lead to the exclusion of valuable instructional materials that introduce students to LGBTQ+ stories and experiences, especially those by or for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.”