Senate panel considers offensive materials bill

3/2/2014

TOPEKA (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a bill that would make it easier to prosecute teachers, librarians or school principals for introducing students to offensive materials, in response to an incident in January in which a poster used in sex education classes was put on a classroom door at a Shawnee Mission middle school.

TOPEKA (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a bill that would make it easier to prosecute teachers, librarians or school principals for introducing students to offensive materials, in response to an incident in January in which a poster used in sex education classes was put on a classroom door at a Shawnee Mission middle school.

Supporters of Senate Bill 401 say the current law, which protects materials that are part of "an approved course or program of instruction," lets schools ignore community standards for what might be considered offensive, The Wichita Eagle reported.

"Because of the way the law is written, although everyone else has to follow community standards, schools do not," said Shawnee Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, who introduced the measure. "Right now if a teacher were to give pornography (to a student), it is not likely at all that a prosecutor would take the case because there is such a high hurdle protecting our schools."

Opponents of the bill, including education groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, said the measure amounts to censorship that would make teachers, libraries or anyone with supervision of a public establishment culpable for even accidental exposure to material deemed offensive.

The proposed legislation is "a solution in search of a non-existent problem, said Randy Mousley, president of United Teachers of Wichita.

"It's just an overreach where some particular group is trying to impose their values on everybody else in society," he said. "There's not that many instances (of teaching materials being challenged), but the unforeseen consequences are numerous."

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said she thinks the bill will return to the Judiciary Committee for some more work, and it's not clear whether the measure will get to a full hearing on the Senate floor.

The poster that prompted Pilcher-Cook to create the bill was titled "How Do People Express Their Sexual Feelings?" and featured a list of 17 behaviors or sex acts — including holding hands, kissing and oral and anal sex.

It was removed after a parent complained, and Shawnee Mission district officers later announced the curriculum had been suspended pending a review.

Steve Maack, an English teacher in East High's International Baccalaureate program in Wichita, called the bill "absurd."

"If something like this were to pass, I would leave the state. I can't even imagine teaching under these circumstances," he said. "I think it's horrible, it's insulting, and ultimately it's bad for kids."

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