Should Teachers Face Jail Time for Explicit Sex-Ed Content?

The ACLU and the National Education Association have their backs up against the wall in Kansas, and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R) is holding them firmly in place with both hands thanks to two bills she has sponsored – both dealing with education, both dealing with sex.

One would force public school systems to give parents the right to “opt in” to allow their kids to take sex education classes, rather than forcing them to “opt out” to remove children from those classes.

The other, and more controversial proposal, would put public and parochial school teachers in jail for exposing students to what the legislation describes in very explicit language as “harmful materials,” even if the materials were permitted by the teachers’ school districts.

Pilcher-Cook told KMBC-TV she was pushed over the edge by a poster in a middle school hallway entitled, “How Do People Express Their Sexual Feelings?”

“Hugging,” “grinding” and “anal sex” were among the choices included on the poster.

Pilcher-Cook was not the first to complain about the poster. Mark Ellis said he brought it to the attention of school officials but “there was some resistance and I had to kick it up a notch to get the poster removed.”

The poster was removed and the teacher who put it up was disciplined.

But that was not good enough for Pilcher-Cook. Her legislation, SB 56, which is a reaction to the poster — and was approved by the Kansas Senate and sent on to the House — removes the right of a teacher to an “affirmative defense” for exposing students to:

any description, exhibition, presentation or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse when the material or performance, taken as a whole or, with respect to a prosecution for an act described by subsection (a)(1), that portion of the material that was actually exposed to the view of minors, has the following characteristics:

(A) The average adult person applying contemporary community standards would find that the material or performance has a predominant tendency to appeal to a prurient interest in sex to minors;

(B) the average adult person applying contemporary community standards would find that the material or performance depicts or describes nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse in a manner that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors; and

(C) a reasonable person would find that the material or performance lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value for minors.

Under an affirmative defense, teachers would be allowed to argue the material was part of an approved curriculum and/or had educational merit.

Pincher-Cook’s proposal leaves very little to the imagination of any teacher, school administrator or county prosecutor. The wording of SB 56 is so explicit that one has to wonder if a teacher (or legislator) might be punished just for showing it to children.

Violation of SB 56 would be a Class B misdemeanor. Violators could be punished by up to 6 months in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Opponents say teachers could be thrown behind bars for teaching classic literature such as Huckleberry Finn.

“The bill’s definition of materials that are ‘harmful to minors’ is overly broad, and would prevent the distribution of materials that educators have determined to be age-appropriate,” Micah Kubic, the executive director of the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in testimony before a Senate committee.

“The restrictions imposed by the bill will tie the hands of Kansas educators, preventing them from providing the education that students want and need and that parents expect,” he added.

Representatives of the state’s largest teachers union, the Kansas National Education Association, also testified against the legislation.

They warned outlawing material “that any reasonable person believes lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value” could open a Pandora’s box of censorship.

“If this bill becomes law, schools and teachers would very likely self-censor their lessons and materials, blocking from use anything that some individual parent might find offensive,” according to a Kansas NEA statement.

“Art history teachers, for example, will think twice about displaying the statue of David or other works of art that display nudity.”

The KNEA also argued there was an additional problem with the legislation beyond the possibility a teacher would be convicted of a crime.

Union officials said schools would have to deal with expensive legal procedures every time a parent had an objection to some material used in class.

Senate Bill 56 is not the only collateral damage from a poster put up in a middle school hallway in Kansas.

Pilcher-Cook has also proposed legislation that would require school districts to receive signed permission slips from parents before their children could attend sex-ed classes.

The retired software engineer turned legislator said this too is a result of that “How Do People Express Their Sexual Feelings?” poster.

Even though it was removed from the school — for which Pilcher-Cook said she was grateful — she also believes the poster was evidence of the need for more parental involvement.

“Parents should be given full information about what their children are being taught on a very sensitive subject,” she said. “I will be working with school officials to ensure that happens and I am relieved to hear the Shawnee Mission School District is doing a comprehensive review of the sexual education material.”

Pilcher-Cook would also like the Kansas legislature to get involved in the act of parenting by deciding who and how Kansans can have children.

She has sponsored a bill that would criminalize surrogate parenting because, as Pilcher-Cook said, “You are creating a child that you know is not going to have a biological mother.”