HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – October 25, 2023
On Tuesday, the GOP-controlled state Senate in Pennsylvania approved a contentious bill that would require parents to opt in before their children can access books deemed sexually explicit. The bill, which passed after more than an hour of heated debate, has ignited a political firestorm. With a final vote tally of 29-21, most Democrats opposed the bill.
Now, it proceeds to the Democrat-controlled House, where its future remains uncertain. Another related bill regulating how teachers communicate with parents regarding curricula also garnered opposition from the state’s largest teachers union.
This legislative action is part of a broader nationwide trend, reflecting an increasing push for parental oversight of school materials. Florida saw a significant surge in similar efforts last year, and since then, numerous state legislatures have proposed similar measures, which critics argue specifically target LGBTQ+ and students of color.
Senator Ryan Aument, a Republican from Lancaster County and the bill’s sponsor defended it as a “measured approach” to address a rapidly escalating national issue. He emphasized that the bill was not intended to ban books, attack the LGBTQ+ community, or censor any group.
Senator Lisa Boscola, a Democrat from Northampton County, concurred, acknowledging the polarized opinions on this issue. “It’s tearing our communities apart,” she said. “That’s why this General Assembly needs to lead. It needs to set forth a statewide policy that balances those radically different viewpoints of parents on both sides of this issue.”
Under the Pennsylvania measure, which bears similarities to a version that passed the chamber last year, school districts would be required to identify and list books containing sexual content, whether used in classroom instruction or available in the school library. Parents would then need to sign an opt-in form to grant permission for their children to access these materials.
The bill defines sexually explicit content as including “acts of masturbation, sexual intercourse, sexual bestiality or physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or if the person is female, breast.” It would also prohibit the depiction of nudity in books for students from kindergarten to grade eight.
Opponents of the legislation argued that it would ultimately lead to censorship and contended that educators already vet books available in schools. They maintained that parents currently can control what their children read.
Democratic Senator Amanda Cappelletti of Montgomery County emphasized the importance of having the right educational materials available for students to explore human relationships, sex, and love. She stated, “We need the right education and materials available to ensure people can explore those spaces safely and with the right knowledge to be able to interact with the world around them compassionately.”
Another bill, termed “classroom transparency,” which had a similar version vetoed by former Governor Tom Wolf last year, also passed the Senate with a 28-22 vote. This measure would require schools to post online the title or link for every textbook used, syllabi, course summaries, and the state academic standards for each course. Democrats argued that schools already permit parents to review curriculum, and the legislation would place unnecessary burdens on school districts.
Republican Senator Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, the bill’s sponsor, defended its intent, stating there was “nothing nefarious” about it.