Virginia

Spotsylvania superintendent pushes back on criticism over sexually explicit books question

Superintendent Mark Taylor disputed parents' claims they can't access ParentVue without answering the question

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Spotsylvania County's superintendent is pushing back against criticism of a new parent question about library books with sexually explicit material.

Some parents said they were surprised last week when they tried to log onto the school portal, called ParentVue, and suddenly got a prompt with the following options:

  • "Yes, I want my child to have access to sexually explicit content in the school libraries, OR
  • No, I do not want my child to have access to sexually explicit content in the school libraries."

Maria Garcia, a parent and former Spotsylvania teacher, said she's been blocked from accessing ParentVue until she answers the question.

"I feel like there is no way to answer this without giving them some sort of power. That's what they are essentially doing. They are trying to empower their own agenda by making you think it's giving you a choice," she said.

But Spotsylvania County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Taylor rejected the criticism.

"I disagree with the characterization that that’s a loaded question. It’s a plain question. Do you want vanilla or chocolate? Coffee with cream or coffee black? Do you want your child exposed to this material or not? It's a simple question," Taylor told News4.

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He said 13,000 parents have already answered the question, and he disputed that parents can’t complete the ParentVue registration without answering.

"You’re mischaracterizing the truth. Their access to ParentVue is not blocked. If they answer yes, if they answer no, if they don’t answer, their access to ParentVue is not blocked," Taylor said.

Each parent News4 spoke with expressed reservations about the library book question.

"Yes, when I initially read the question it was kind of alarming," parent Danita Mosley told News4.

Mosley, with children across elementary, middle and high school, said she felt like she had to answer "No."

"I feel like the question was very generalized and probably should have been broken down a little more, but I went ahead and signed it because I don’t know what books they are talking about," she said.

Another mom, Michelle Beardsley, said she decided to answer "Yes" to give her children free access to books.

"I don’t want to limit the books they have in the library. A lot of the books that other school systems have gotten rid of is absolutely ridiculous," she said.

Spotsylvania County Public Schools (SCPS) made national headlines in late 2021, when several conservative board members suggested banning — or even burning — certain school library books, most with LGBTQ+ themes. Since then, more than a dozen books have been pulled from the shelves.

Taylor sent messages to parents explaining why the questions are being asked, writing in part: "With nearly 400,000 volumes in our school libraries, we want to be vigilant about protecting the wishes of all SCPS parents," adding, "Your decisions will help guide policy and ensure we respect your concerns and preferences."

Taylor wrote that the library's online book checkout system will track the students whose parents have denied access to books with sexually explicit content.

However, no definition or parameters have been provided for which books are considered sexually explicit. There is also no list available showing which books would be prohibited for students who are denied access.

"I'm hoping that they that they will remove this question," said Garcia, who is gathering signatures on a petition on Change.org. "If they — I think that if they really wanted to, they could make this question optional."

School board members in the minority are also opposing the question requirement. Board member Nicole Cole sent a letter to the superintendent demanding he remove the requirement, along with a cease and desist letter.

"Student information should not be held hostage because they have to answer that question in the way that they have posted," Cole said.

Cole also suggests it could be illegal to block parents from accessing their students' records.

Garcia says she's not going to answer the question.

Garcia and Cole say there is a possible workaround. Parents can use StudentVue to access information if their kids will share their passwords.

Back in March, Spotsylvania's school superintendent ordered high school librarians to pull 14 titles off shelves. The list included two Toni Morrison novels and several books telling the stories of LGBTQ+ people, people of color and those struggling with mental illness.

NBC Washington took a close look at the content of those books earlier this year.

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