Eagle editorial: Let Senate Bill 401 die

03/05/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:22 AM

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, was wise to send back to committee a bill that would make it easier to prosecute teachers, librarians or school principals for exposing students to harmful materials. For the sake of schools and the state’s reputation, the bill should die there.

Senate Bill 401 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. But as criticism mounted, Wagle withdrew it from the Senate calendar and sent it to the Ways and Means Committee.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee – who also sponsored legislation that would require parental consent for students to receive sex education in public schools. It would remove from state statute an exemption protecting K-12 personnel from prosecution for distributing materials as part of an approved course or program.

“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,” she told The Eagle.

Is that Pilcher-Cook’s view of teachers and schools – that we need to worry about them passing out pornography?

In addition to being insulting, the bill is written so broadly that many teachers might self-censor what they teach in order to protect themselves from potential prosecution. The Kansas National Education Association warned that the bill would “purge literature from our schools, censor art classes and stop field trips.”

A family values activist backing the bill dismissed such claims, saying that educational materials would be protected if a “reasonable person” would find them to have value. But teachers are understandably concerned – after all, it’s their careers and liberties at risk.

As with much bad legislation, this bill was prompted by one particular incident at one particular school: A middle school teacher in the Shawnee Mission district displayed a sex-education poster on a classroom door.

After a parent complained, the poster was removed and the district began a review of the sex-ed curriculum. That’s how such isolated incidents should be handled – by the local school or district.

“Let the community and the leaders in that community deal with that, not make it a statewide solution,” Lynn Rogers, president of the Wichita school board, told KSN, Channel 3. “We don’t need another law.”

Especially one likely to generate more negative national news and make Kansas the butt of more jokes.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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