“It shouldn’t be easier to protect your child from explicit content on Netflix than in their middle school,” said Senator Ryan Aument (R-36) upon the passage of his bill, Senate Bill 7.
Senate Bill 7 passed the Senate this week after receiving bipartisan approval, underscoring the importance of giving parents greater control over their children’s education. However, the bill’s mandates have incited the disapproval of public school unions such as the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA).
The fundamental aim of Senate Bill 7 is to provide parents with the tools to safeguard their children from sexually explicit content in their public school libraries. It acknowledges the frustrations parents experience in today’s digital age, where numerous platforms have parental control features and rating systems, while similar options in public schools are lacking.
Senate Bill 7 intends to bridge this gap.
READ MORE — Guy Ciarrocchi: We believed colleges were harming America. Now, everyone knows it.
The passage of Senate Bill 7 is the culmination of a two-year process that involved engaging with a diverse spectrum of stakeholders, including families, school administrators, educators, and librarians. The bill’s drafters contend they sought to balance the rights, responsibilities, and concerns of all parties involved.
Sen. Aument, determined to clarify the bill’s scope, did not dance around the issue, asserting “it is NOT a book ban, it is NOT an attack on the LGBTQ community, and it is NOT an attempt to censor minorities or any other group.” Instead, he said, the bill “strictly identifies sexually explicit content, wherever it may be found and regardless of who it may be written by or about, and allows parents to decide if it’s appropriate for their own child.” The bill does not remove books from school library shelves.
Senate Bill 7 outlines several key provisions:
- Identification of sexually explicit content in school curriculum, materials, and books
- Establishment of an opt-in policy that would:
- Notify parents of the sexually explicit content by including a list of the book titles on the form
- Give parents the opportunity to review the materials
- Require parents to provide direct consent for their children to access sexually explicit content
- Ensure that non-explicit alternatives are available for students if their parents do not opt-in
This comprehensive approach, as reflected in the bill’s structure, emphasizes providing information and choices to parents while still maintaining access to age-appropriate educational materials for all students.
Despite the bill’s emphasis on these stated goals, it faces staunch opposition from organizations like PSEA and PSLA.
Both PSEA and PSLA were invited to attend and testify at the Senate hearing but did not participate. Both organizations opted to provide written testimony where PSEA expressed concerns about Senate Bill 7, while PSLA aimed at conveying their disapproval of the bill’s provisions.
PSEA characterized the legislation as one that “would have multifaceted harmful effects on students, schools, and the education profession.”
According to PSEA, the bill threatens students’ rights by “imposing restrictions on all students and families based on the objections of a small group of parents.”
Parents, educators, and lawmakers continue to seek common ground to address concerns while preserving educational opportunities for students across Pennsylvania.
With their written testimony highlighting several key points, PSEA argued that the bill’s mandates undermine local control by school boards and other elected officials over educational materials and content. PSEA went on to question the necessity of the bill, stating that it mandates an arduous process that is unclear and unnecessary.
Notwithstanding their dissent regarding the bill, PSEA emphasized that they do not support the existence of obscene materials in Pennsylvania’s public schools, asserting that their opposition is rooted in concerns about the bill’s broader implications.
Like PSEA, PSLA did not mince words in denouncing the bill stating, “The bill itself seeks to empower the guardians of students by allowing them to know what material is on the shelves at their school library. This is a practice that all trained, certified school librarians are supportive of and are already doing.”
Their statement stressed the importance of maintaining a balanced approach that ensures students’ access to diverse materials while respecting parents’ rights and responsibilities, declaring, “It is never the intention of a certified school librarian to hide, deceive, or otherwise prevent a parent from knowing what materials are available for their student to access.”
PSLA conveyed its support for existing opt-out procedures (as opposed to the opt-in procedures that the bill would create).
“If a parent wants to restrict access to those materials, a simple conversation with the school librarian, a phone call, or email, and that school librarian will honor the parents’ request.”
Proponents of the opt-in procedure are concerned that many parents are not aware of the materials in public schools and would not know which materials to opt out of.
PSLA further contended that the bill does not meet “needs within the family unit” and expressed concern about the workload that the bill would impose on schools, especially those without certified school librarians. The organization suggests that having a certified school librarian in every school building would be essential for the bill’s proposed work.
Senate Bill 7’s approval in the Senate is a significant development in the ongoing conversation about parental involvement in education, students’ rights, and the role of educators. While the bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration, it is clear that the discussion surrounding this issue is far from over. Parents, educators, and lawmakers continue to seek common ground to address concerns while preserving educational opportunities for students across Pennsylvania.
Olivia DeMarco is an Editorial Associate for Broad + Liberty. She previously served as a legislative aide in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Temple University.