Senate Bill 656 is Causing Anxiety Among Students and Staff


Jenna Hentrich

Sophomore Jada Sanders reads a book in the library. Senate Bill 656 requires parent/guardian permission to read books with sexually explicit content.

Trey Kuriger III

Senate Bill 656, targeted at Virginia Beach City Public Schools district, states that there must be parental notification when a teacher is going to teach on subjects regarding anything explicit or containing sexual content to the students. The Bill also explains how the teacher must give specifics on the explicit content that they will be teaching, and the parent has the ability to review and refuse every piece of information about the explicit content that is going to be taught or talked about to the students. 

As big as it is, SB656 [Senate Bill 656] also has been challenging some major books in the library that have been taught in many classes in the past. Some of these books include: The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ready Player One, The Grapes of Wrath, and Romeo and Juliet (graphic novel). The Bill is also challenging not just books, but also all instructional materials.

“The Senate Bill, it doesn’t just include library materials, but any instructional materials that could be deemed sexually explicit. Providing that parental notification, prior to things being read; and I think because of, as I’ve mentioned before, the extra scrutiny, teachers are more hesitant to use resources” says Rachel Lizan, the library media specialist for Tallwood High School.

With SB656 restricting the access of bestseller books, it is also challenging many educational textbooks that are used in everyday classes: health and PE, microbiology, psychology, and child development. 

This bill also doesn’t just target the library and classrooms, but also extracurricular activities, both teacher and student-led.

“If that group has a book study, or has a book club, even if it is student led, because it is a extracurricular activity, parents would have to be notified of the books that they’re students are reading. The book may be deemed fine, but because of the way the bill is worded, there has to be parental notification” says Lizan.

As Lizan stated, having this bill in place could potentially lead to problems regarding student and parent relations with the school itself. With most students being under the assumption that extracurricular activities are not under the jurisdiction of rules such as these, it can also lead to dire misunderstandings.

Having been implemented in April of 2022, SB 656 has begun to put pressure on libraries in VBCPS, Virginia Beach City Public Schools. 

“There [has] been a lot of pressure on the library; extra scrutiny I would say, in what we have. And a lot of that is outside. It’s not necessarily students having an issue with the books, or even our parents here at Tallwood, but outside in the community that are putting a lot of pressure on us because of books” states Lizan.

While SB656 is also putting pressure on the libraries, it is also leading English teachers at Tallwood, and around VBCPS, to change their teaching styles in order to not violate the bill. This causes more problems for the teachers because it keeps them from being able to teach books that they have gotten used to teaching in past years. It also stops these teachers from being able to address challenges in text that will help young students to develop functioning opinions on challenges that they will face in their life.

“To have things that are banned, or blocked, or just [has] restricted access really limits a student’s freedom for what they are able to pick and choose what they want to learn about the world. There are so many different unique perspectives on world events, and I think when we start eliminating those perspectives and limiting what students are able to access in regards to those events, you get a very one sided argument. And as we’ve seen in class, arguments are very rarely ever one sided” says Heidi Gonzales, an English teacher at Tallwood High School.

SB656 is obviously putting pressure on some of the staff within Tallwood High School. Though, how the situation will be dealt with will be left up mostly to the lasting results that will surely come along with the bill itself.

“I think we are going to see the effect more as time goes on” states Gonzales.

As Gonzales says, some are showing curiosity, while others anxiety, towards the bill. As more books are being found and challenged, some steer that curiosity to ask the question, “how far will they actually go?”