On Tuesday, February 2nd, the Kansas House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss Senate Bill (SB) 56, which would allow teachers to be criminally prosecuted if they present their students with any material considered harmful to minors. Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) introduced the bill in January 2015 after a poster in a Shawnee County middle school classroom sparked controversy. The informational and imageless poster, which was once again debated during the Committee’s Tuesday hearing, is titled “How do people express their sexual feelings?” and includes such phrases as “oral sex” and “vaginal intercourse.”
Although the poster was removed after a parent complaint, Sen. Pilcher-Cook insists that the damage of this “offensive” poster is done, as it “could have serious repercussions on a young child’s mind.” The Kansas Senate passed SB 56 by a vote of 26 to 14 in February 2015. With the bill now up for consideration by the Kansas House, teachers could lose valuable protection from prosecution. Under current state law teachers are protected from any misdemeanor charges associated with distributing “harmful material” to children so long as that content is part of an “approved course or program of instruction.” This bill would remove that provision for public schools, allowing teachers and school administrators to be prosecuted and sentenced with up to six months in jail, as well as a fine, for presenting material deemed harmful to minors.
SB 56 defines "harmful to minors" as “that quality of any description, exhibition, presentation or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse.” Its passage would have troubling effects on human sexuality instruction throughout the state, where one parent’s objection could potentially lead to criminal prosecution of an educator. Opponents of the bill, like Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) and the ACLU also point out that it could be used against teachers who use certain books, art, or literature as part of lessons in other subjects.
The House has until April 27th to vote on SB 56 otherwise it dies with the adjournment of the session.