A controversial bill that would make it easier for teachers to face criminal charges if they show material deemed offensive is moving forward in Kansas, sparking concern that it may actually result in educators being afraid to discuss literary classics or issues like sexual education.
The bill passed Wednesday in the Republican-controlled state Senate in a 26-14 vote and was apparently catalyzed after a poster was displayed at a middle school in Shawnee, Kansas last year with the headline “How do people express their sexual feelings,” with words like “kissing,” “sexual fantasy” and “anal sex” written underneath.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Kansas National Education Association have railed against the bill, saying it is too broad.
“The restrictions imposed by the bill will tie the hands of Kansas educators, preventing them from providing the education that students want and need and that parents expect,” said Micah W. Kubic during legislative testimony earlier this month. He added that Senate Bill 56 “could criminalize teachers simply for distributing handouts, displaying posters, or sharing educational information. Teachers should not be criminalized for doing their jobs.”
Supporters, meanwhile, say the legislation will protect children from being subjected to topics or images that could be pornographic or inappropriate.
If the bill becomes law, an existing legal exemption that protects teachers from being prosecuted for presenting material deemed harmful to minors would be removed. Teachers could be charged with a class B misdemeanor and face up to six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
Several teachers have expressed concern that the legislation could affect their ability to do their jobs in the classroom out of fear of being taken to court.
Liesl Wright, an art teacher in Wichita, told The Wichita Eagle that “I’d be in trouble. I was showing my high school art students charcoal drawings of nude people just today. I do it all the time. You know when the religious laws regarding art are more restrictive than the European Renaissance, you’ve gone too damn far.” She added the bill is a “very frightening though for art and science teachers in particular.”
The legislation will now move to the GOP-controlled House.