Tuesday, June 28, 2022

PA: Joining The Gag Law Train

Some Pennsylvania GOP folks have decided they want to take a ride on the teacher gag law train and toss up some "parental rights" bills. Each follows the usual template, but offers some special variations.

First up-- Senate Bill 1278.

This is one of those bills requiring the school to tell parents if there is a "change in the student's services or monitoring related to the student's mental, emotional or physical health or well-being" as well as a requirement that the school must "reinforce the fundamental right of the parent or legal guardian to make decisions regarding the parent or legal guardian's child and encourage a student to discuss issues relating to the student's well-being with the parent or legal guardian or to facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent or legal guardian." 

There could be many situations that could trigger such a rule, but mostly these bills are about keeping the school from trying to secretly turn your kid gay or trans. This bill does include a disclaimer saying that the school can withhold such information "if a reasonably prudent person would believe, based on the documented testimony of the student or a history of documented incidents, that disclosure would result in child abuse or the child being abandoned."

There is a now-almost-hilarious saying that school personnel should show the same neutrality toward "sexual orientation and gender identity" as they are required to show toward religious beliefs, and maybe this is just the bill's author taking a snarky dig (Just use that neutrality thing you make us use with religion! Ha! Showed you! Hoist with your own petard now, aren't you!), but since the Supreme Court seems bent on dismantling that religious neutrality, the PA Senate may want to come up with new language. 

Also, for the gazillionth time-- virtually every text that portrays traditional gender roles is taking a non-neutral stance on gender identity and sexual orientation, so this requirement is functionally impossible to follow. But maybe the bill's author really meant "it should be illegal to tell kids that it's okay to be gay or trans."

This bill also includes private right of action for any parent who thinks the non-confidentiality thing has been violated by some teacher trying to turn their kid gay or trans, which means that if the student has given evidence that they are reasonably afraid of abuse or abandonment at home, all of that gets dragged into court when the school has to defend itself from the lawsuit. Want to guess what the Venn Diagram for "parents whose children are afraid of them" and "parents who will sue the school over this stuff" looks like?

Our other bill is Senate Bill 1277

This is a naughty books bill, requiring schools to notify parents of any "sexually explicit content." Including all texts, instructional materials, and library books. The school district needs to come up with policy for all this, and must have public meetings to let everyone have a say on what the policies should look like. 

This bill applies to all schools--public, charter, vocational, cyber-charter. Parents can review any and all materials and require the school to provide their student nonexplicit materials. The bill defines "sexually explicit content" as anything that contains "written descriptions of sexual conduct," which is super-vague, "materials that contain "visual or visually implied depictions of sexual conduct or simulations of sexual conduct," which is even vaguer-- what exactly is a visually implied depiction of sexual conduct?  And no "visual depictions of nudity" at all for K-8. Tough luck, health teachers. Also, how nude are we talking? 

Laws like these get in their own way because they are so vague and arbitrary that they raise far more questions than solutions. 

The sponsors insist that they are being bombarded with parental concerns so they need to empower them, Florida-style. 

Watch for these and other bills in Pennsylvania. Fun times. 

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