A row of school lockers. (Getty Images)
A Democratic-led Senate committee on Thursday killed multiple bills from House Republicans that aimed to increase parental oversight in public schools.
The votes continue a trend of lawmakers of both parties opposing each other’s controversial legislation and killing them in committee hearings.
Bills defeated by the Senate Education and Health Committee included proposals to require that parents be notified and allowed to opt their children out of presentations or performances by outside groups and mandate parental involvement in the crafting of library policies.
“As was pointed out in testimony, our school divisions already have the authority to identify materials that may be deemed objectionable,” said Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond. “We have two county school divisions that have already moved to remove some books. Our local school divisions have this authority and they are already doing it.”
House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, castigated Democrats for the votes Thursday, saying in a statement that “common sense, parental involvement bills just have no place in today’s Democratic Party.”
“Democrats made it clear yesterday that they’re still in Terry McAuliffe’s camp, and don’t think that parents should have a role in teaching their children,” said Gilbert, referring to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s remarks during the 2021 gubernatorial race that parents shouldn’t decide what schools teach.
Del. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, who carried a bill that requires explicit content in school libraries to be electronically cataloged and lets parents restrict children’s access to it, also criticized the decisions, saying controversial books such as the LGBTQ-themed graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and Margaret Atwood’s widely celebrated dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” contain graphic content inappropriate for minors.
“The content of the books are so graphic they cannot be broadcast on television or handed out to children in non-library settings, because doing so would be criminal under Virginia law as the material is so graphic it falls in the category of harmful to juveniles,” Anderson said. “I could not be more disappointed with legislators rejecting the concept that parents know what is best for their children and that granting parents the right to restrict their child from having access to these materials is in the best interest of the parent and child relationship.”
Other legislation killed by the Senate committee would have required school personnel to notify parents about any student’s “gender incongruence,” defined as “a difference between an individual’s biological sex and such individual’s perceived or desired gender.”
Hashmi said opponents of the bill expressed concern that the legislation would cause “forced outing” of children and could lead to them becoming homeless because of rejection from their family or faith communities.
Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said he could not support the bill because he believed it resembled mandatory reporting law that typically applies to situations when a crime has been committed against a child.
“I just feel like this bill rather than solving the issue would exacerbate the issue,” Petersen said.
Parental rights became a major issue during the 2021 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and McAuliffe.
At the time, tensions had emerged between parents and school officials around the state over school reopenings, masking requirements, transgender student policies and controversial books.
Since Youngkin took office, he has taken actions on a variety of issues he has described as supporting parental rights, including signing an executive order to “empower Virginia parents in their children’s education and upbringing” by making masks optional in schools and overhauling state model policies for the treatment of transgender students that would require parental approval for any changes to students’ “names, nicknames and/or pronouns.”
Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for governor, said an a statement to the Mercury, parents have been ignored by “bureaucrats and politicians.”
“The Youngkin administration knows the importance of parental notification and is committed to empowering parents to make the right decisions for their children and their well-being across the commonwealth,” Porter said.
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