One Kansas senator is pushing a bill that would result in teachers being slapped with criminal charges if they provide their students with “harmful materials” such as the novel Huckleberry Finn.
“In a nutshell, it has to be highly offensive at the community standard,” said Shawnee Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, who sponsors the bill.
Senate Bill 56 would allow prosecutors to look at each violation on a case-by-case method, meaning that each teacher who violates the bill would face criminal charges, writes Brendaliss Gonzalez for KSHB. The maximum penalty associated with the bill would be 6 months in jail.
“It helps alert teachers that this is very important. This is very important, protecting our children from this kind of material,” said Pilcher-Cook.
The bill would allow parents to come forward and complain with any portion of a teacher’s curriculum they have an issue with or consider “harmful to minors,” and charges would then be filed.
The bill was created after a controversial poster was hung up at Hocker Grove Middle School last year as part of a sexual education class. Meant to portray how people show their sexual feelings, the text-only poster featured words such as hugging, kissing, and others much more explicit, including oral sex.
While the poster was approved through the curriculum, some parents thought it was too explicit and felt that teachers need more oversight and accountability.
“You had 12- and 13-year-old children seeing things that I don’t think they should have seen,” said Mark Ellis, whose daughter told him about the poster.
Ellis was the one to file a complaint concerning the poster with the Shawnee Mission School District, resulting in the poster being taken down. He would like to see stricter rules placed that hold teachers accountable for their actions.
However, critics fear the bill is simply a “solution in search of a problem.” The Kansas National Educators Association and the ACLU took their concerns to a committee meeting last week, claiming the bill could affect what students learn.
“Because, if a teacher is afraid, they’re going to be tried and charged and convicted of a misdemeanor. They’re going to be less likely to share information [in fear] that someone somewhere might potentially object it,” said Micah Kubic, the executive director for the ACLU of Kansas.
While the bill would primarily focus on sexual education classes, it could extend into some literature with sexual or controversial themes such as Huckleberry Finn, leaving some teachers wondering, “What would I teach?”
A separate bill stemming from the poster was also introduced, which would require students to “opt-in” to sexual education classes. Marcus Baltzell, communications director at the Kansas National Education Association, did not comment on the current curriculum in place, though he did feel that such a policy would be harmful for students. “We think that’s difficult and dangerous for the child who needs this education but doesn’t have that same active and involved parent that another student does,” he said.