Kansas Could Put Teachers In Prison For Assigning Books Prosecutors Don’t Like

The State Senate has passed a measure that could punish teachers who share "harmful" material.

stack of colorful textbooks on white background
Photo Credit: paulista

A bill approved by the Kansas Senate on Wednesday would enable prosecutors to bring charges against teachers and school administrators for assigning or distributing materials judged harmful to students, the Kansas City Star reports.

 

The bill, proposed by conservative state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), deletes a provision in current state law that exempts schoolteachers and officials from such prosecutions. Senators passed the bill 26 to 14.

After introducing the bill earlier this month, Pilcher-Cook told the Topeka Capital-Journal that she did so in response to a poster displayed at a Shawnee Mission middle school in 2013. The poster posed the question,  “How do people express their sexual feelings?” and listed such examples as oral sex, kissing, intercourse, and talking. Media outlets pounced on the controversy after some parents complained, and though the poster was part of a broader sex education curriculum that emphasized abstinence, the school suspended use of the material.

Pilcher-Cook and other supporters of her measure also say that it’s necessary to prevent the distribution of pornography in schools — a problem that has not hitherto arisen. The Star reports that earlier this week, state Rep. Joseph Scapa (R-Wichita) cited as pornographic a book by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

Testifying against the bill earlier this month, Kansas National Education Association general counsel David Schnauer called the legislation “a solution looking for a problem,” arguing that its real effect would not be to protect minors from harmful materials, but to undermine “legitimate educational programs and curriculum.”

The legislation now moves to the deeply conservative House of Representatives. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback hasn’t commented on the measure, but as a hardline social conservative, it would hardly be out of character for him to sign it.

 

 

Luke Brinker is Salon's deputy politics editor. Follow him on Twitter at @LukeBrinker.