Under a new bill pushed through the Kansas Senate this week, teachers could soon be jailed for six months for distributing novels like Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Ryeor sex-ed books depicting the human anatomy — if those works are deemed “harmful.”
Kansas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 56 Wednesday, which removed provisions in a current statute that protects schoolteachers in the Midwestern state from prosecution — a move that some say would only come at the expense of children’s education.
The bill would make it a criminal offense for teachers to “display,” or “present or distribute” materials considered “harmful to minors,” including “any description, exhibition, presentation or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.”
The state already has a law in place that makes it illegal for adults to show “harmful” materials to minors — primarily to stop pornographic material being given to kids — but educators were exempt from the law. Until now.
Under the bill’s broad guidelines, materials will be excluded from the curriculum if it both contains any explicit descriptions or representations and if any “reasonable person” believes the content lacks “serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic, or political value.”
The definition of what exactly is reasonable, however is problematic, especially when it comes to controversial literature. On Monday, Republican Wichita Rep. Joseph Scapa, said he considered Nobel-winner Toni Morrison’s novella The Bluest Eye — which explores themes of sexuality — to be pornographic.
“I think that’s dirty,” Scapa said, gesturing at an explicit passage in the novel. “I just don’t think you want 10th-grade boys — in some classes they read this out loud — reading this out loud. It causes problems. It gives them ideas.”
The bill was reportedly first drafted in response to parent complaints about a sex-ed poster displayed last year in Hocker Grove Middle School in Shawnee, Kansas titled: “How Do People Express Their Sexual Feelings?” The text-only flyer included a number of acts such as “hugging,” “sexual fantasy,” “grinding” and “anal sex.”