by Caden Dean-Sauter-
Montgomery County Public Schools have implemented their version of a Virginia Department of Education mandate forcing teachers to fill out a form regarding any explicit sexual content used in class.
The policy went into effect in January and requires all K-12 teachers to fill out a form documenting every usage of materials that include nudity, and then defend why the materials are necessary to the lesson.
According to the Code of Virginia, § 18.2-390, “ “Nudity” means a state of undress so as to expose the human male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a full opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple, or the depiction of covered or uncovered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.”
“Images of the natural human body (nudity) can be found on just about every page of our textbook and are referenced daily,” said Beth Patterson, an anatomy teacher at Auburn High School.
But while it may seem like just a life sciences issue, the policy affects all teachers. History teachers must document uses of classic art, such as the Statue of David, and English teachers must scour through books they teach looking for anything that fits into the description of nudity or sexual conduct.
“The problem is, the strength of literature is its context, its theme, its characterization, its art, not if the word breast or buttocks appears in a sentence,” said Ariel Hylton, a 12th-grade English teacher also at Auburn.
Both teachers also noted the irony of having to defend what they are teaching, as parents are often just focused on one instance of something that might fall under the VDOE’s umbrella of sexual content, not the lesson as a whole.
“No English teacher is peddling pornography to their students,” said Hylton. “We traffic in literature that deals with the human condition- messy, ugly, beautiful, and complex. In doing so, we challenge our students, the readers, to look beyond their own experiences, to have empathy, to be tolerant, to be more than their own experiences might expect of them.”
Ms. Patterson also mentioned how a current list of instructional materials with sexually explicit content by grade and subject will be maintained on the school’s website for the public to access. As materials are added to the list, teachers provide written notice to parents at least thirty days prior to their use in the classroom. If parents have issues with the material being taught, they can challenge the material, forcing teachers to assign alternate work.
“The textbook as a whole is presented to parents who will have the right to determine whether or not they want their child exposed to the images it contains – I fear for a generation of medical students who have not seen the human body other than in the mirror,” said Patterson.
So far, no teacher at Auburn has had material challenged.