The board of Loudoun County Public Schools on Tuesday approved new standards for controversial and sensitive curriculum materials.
Guideline 5420 defines controversial issues as those involving “significant academic, social, political, or ideological matters” about which students may have opposing viewpoints and perspectives. Sensitive topics are defined in the curriculum as “resolved historical facts” that can lead to sensitive conversations that need to be addressed in a “safe learning environment” for students.
The policy requires teachers to review their personal views on controversial issues to avoid prejudice, and to keep parents and school leaders informed of potentially sensitive issues. “When in doubt about the impact of a controversial topic on planned instruction, inform the school principal of the topic, its relevance to the curriculum, and the instructional strategies being used to reduce bias,” the policy reads.
The policy states that administrators must approve guest speakers to speak on sensitive topics. Before controversial subjects are taught, parents need to be informed about the content and goals of the lesson plan.
“Be aware that students may react strongly to controversial or sensitive content,” the policy warns. “Families and school counselors should be informed when reactions disrupt student learning.”
The update comes as largely conservative parent groups in Virginia and the nation demand books and tuition for the removal of books related to LGBTQ issues or racial history, or censorship of tuition across the United States. Between July last year and March this year, 1,145 books were banned in school districts nationwide, a record number, according to anti-censorship group PEN America.
In his first executive order in January, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin banned the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts.” These included critical race theory, a college-level theory about institutional racism not taught at the LCPS.
Board members voted 7-2 to approve the new policy. Denise Corbo, At-Large, Harris Mahedavi, Ashburn, CEO Jeff Morse, Dulles, Erika R. Ogedegbe, Leesburg, Atoosa Reaser, Algonkian, and Brenda L. Sheridan, Sterling voted yes. John Beatty, Catocin and Tiffany L. Polifko, Broad Run, voted no.
Following the vote, board members were informed of the creation of Policy 5055, Parental Notification of Sexually Explicit Content in Education. The policy is mandated by the Virginia Department of Education to take effect on January 1. The board is expected to vote on the policy on November 29.
The VDOE defines sexually explicit content as “any description or image, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar representation that depicts sexual bestiality, a suggestive display of nudity, as nudity is defined in Va. Code 18.2-390 , sexual arousal, sexual behavior, or sadomasochistic abuse, as also defined in Va. Code 18.2-390, coprophilia, urophilia, or fetishism.”
Neil C. Slevin, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for LCPS, said he doesn’t know why the definition was included in the VDOE Model Policy on Sexually Explicit Content because no public schools in Virginia teach on the topics listed in the definition.
Slevin said the notification policy is consistent with current practices by LCPS teachers and “will give weight to those practices and improve the information available to families working with our schools.” He noted that parents currently have the option of obtaining substitute materials for their children if they object to the materials being taught.
Slevin said about 250 middle school textbooks and 200 high school textbooks were checked. Sexual content is not an elementary school book. The policy also requires screening of the school library’s roughly 90,000 books, which Slevin previously said may need more staffing. Some teachers and school librarians have told the board that the policy is cumbersome and overly restrictive.
“There is concern among certain teachers and staff about compliance with this policy,” Slevin said. “But we are working to support them.”
Polifiko, who was sworn in Tuesday after campaigning for more parental notification, criticized that she was asked to approve the policy before all materials were reviewed.
“It’s a tragedy that we’re in this place in education where we have to spend this time going through definitions of explicit sexuality and potentially being in the classroom,” she said. “It’s very difficult for me to stand behind something like this when we haven’t addressed the issues with Policy 5055 and we currently have these inappropriate materials in our schools.”