Opponents of a bill that would make it easier to prosecute school officials for introducing offensive materials to students have good reason to be alarmed.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, is so broad that it could leave educators more concerned about offending someone than about challenging their students.
Said Sen. Pilcher-Cook: “… although everyone else has to follow community standards, schools do not. Right now, if a teacher were to give pornography (to a student), it is not likely at all that a prosecutor would take the case because there is such a high hurdle protecting our schools.”
Sparking her bill (and one requiring parental consent for children to receive sex education in public schools) was a poster in a Shawnee Mission middle school sex education classroom. Titled “How Do People Express Their Sexual Feelings?”, its 17 behaviors ranged from cuddling and holding hands to oral and anal sex. After a parent complained, it was removed and the curriculum was suspended.
It’s not hard to understand that some parents — and students — might consider parts of that poster offensive. But if the list represented behaviors that the students came up with rather than a teacher or another source, would the poster be as offensive — even criminally offensive?
Current law protects materials that are part “of an approved course or program of instruction.” That’s reasonable. To Sen. Pilcher-Cook and other advocates of her proposal, however, that allows schools to ignore community standards about what might be offensive.
Even if Sen. Pilcher-Cook is correct, and teachers or schools do go beyond community standards, such instances are extremely rare and can be handled without a threat of prosecution. And although advocates of this bill say their concerns don’t involve art or literature, teachers and school districts would censor their material to protect themselves from criminal prosecution. That doesn’t serve the interests of students.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who already has thrown water on Sen. Pilcher-Cook’s proposal to outlaw surrogate pregnancies, said this bill would be returned to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further work. She acknowledged that questions have been raised about a one-word change — “knowingly” being changed to “recklessly” — that needs further consideration.
A better idea would be for senators to acknowledge they are trying to correct a problem that exists almost entirely in the imagination of self-righteous individuals who want to substitute their judgment for that of teachers, librarians and principals.