TOPEKA– Opponents of legislation that would allow Kansas teachers to be criminally charged for exposing children to harmful material say the proposal is overly broad and could land educators in hot water merely for discussing such literature as “Huckleberry Finn.”
The measure would delete from state law an exemption from criminal prosecution for K-12 educators regarding presentation of materials “harmful to minors.” The bill was discussed during a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
A similar bill emerged from a different Senate committee last year, but it never cleared the full House or Senate.
The bill was drafted in response to highly offensive information being presented to students in Johnson County in 2013, said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican.
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A poster was affixed to a classroom door in Shawnee Mission middle school with text answering the question, “How do people express their sexual feelings?” The poster’s list of options included oral sex, intercourse and other sex acts, prompting complaints from parents and leading district officials to remove the poster.
She said state laws should safeguard the rights of parents to shield their children from such material, especially in schools.
“Pornography and obscene materials are becoming more and more prevalent in our society, and it is all too common to hear of cases where children are not being protected from the harm it inflicts,” she said.
But others said the legislation goes too far.
“This bill is a solution looking for a problem,” said David Schauner, general counsel for the Kansas National Education Association. “This affirmative defense is not a free pass to break the law and provide harmful materials to minors. It is, however, a protection against baseless claims attacking legitimate educational programs and curriculum.”
He said text in the bill appears to give prosecutors the right to charge principals, teachers or other educators for discussing literature such as “The Red Badge of Courage” or “Huckleberry Finn.”
“Senate Bill 56 could criminalize teachers simply for distributing handouts, displaying posters or sharing educational information,” added Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas. “Teachers should not be criminalized for doing their jobs.”