(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania Senate remains divided over a proposal that asks for parental permission before students can view sexually explicit content at school.
In the end, a majority of lawmakers – including all 21 Republicans and one Democrat – approved the legislation, sending it to the House for consideration.
The proposal’s prospects in the lower chamber, where Democrats control the legislative calendar by a razor-thin majority, are unclear. Two defections could sway the balance in favor of the bill, even if the party as a whole rejects it as a worrying step toward censorship.
House Democratic leadership did not respond to a request from The Center Square for comment on the matter.
Supporters remain shocked by the criticism, pointing to a broad standard across society that limits a minor’s access to inappropriate sexual content.
Education Committee Majority Chairman Scott Martin, R-Strasburg, recalled how video stores once concealed explicit materials in a room blocked by a curtain.
Not to mention, he added, other regulations that stop kids from buying cigarettes and drinking alcohol – or school policies that require parental notification when a student searches explicit content on an electronic device.
Still, Senate Bill 7 doesn’t even go that far, he added. It gives parents the choice to opt their children out of access to sexually explicit books, some that include graphic depictions or descriptions of oral and anal sex.
“What bothers me is that there are people who look me in my face and tell me or try to control what I think is best for my kids,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Education Committee Minority Chairwoman Lindsey Williams, D-Pittsburgh, said during a voting meeting last week that the bill undermines school libraries – and the licensed staff that manages them – as a “safe space” for students who feel ostracized.
The Pennsylvania School Librarians Association has also said the policy creates unnecessary paperwork, especially considering school librarians already screen titles and are willing to honor parents’ wishes regarding which books their children can read. Fifty districts don’t employ licensed librarians needed “to do the work” or keep track of which parents have given permission, they added.