This commentary contains references that might be triggering to some readers. If you or someone you know are in crisis, please contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 or calling the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. The Trevor Project can be reached at 1-866-488-7386 or by clicking here.
“Indoctrination,” “infected,” “political agenda,” and most commonly heard, “woke.” Recently, these have been terms heard in talks about education among groups on the political right. Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) titled “AN ACT relating to education and declaring an emergency,” was signed into law on March 19th, 2023. A bill that embodies a political agenda, SB 5 creates requirements for districts and local boards of education to create a process by which parents can address and complain about materials that they deem “harmful to minors.” A bill aimed at ending our schools’ “political agendas” was instead used for promoting its own right-wing agenda.
As public schools around Kentucky went back to class, many have done so in confusion and fear. My first day in AP Literature was one filled with uncertainty as the requirements under SB 5 were explained. A talk about whose guardians will take them out of the course they themselves chose. Fear centered around being prohibited from learning essential and real content, the very same content those before us have learned without struggle. Many students were reluctantly handed forms to disapproving parents, placing a halt on their education. Materials and content about human expression that we deal with and face in our daily lives was deemed “harmful to minors,” problems presented with each one of our lives.
SB 5 has become a tool for organizations who claim to be “parental rights” groups. One of these is Moms for Liberty. According to The Courier Journal, the organization is deemed an “anti-government extremist group,” based on reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Moms for Liberty has already barred three books from Campbell County’s district. It’s just a start to the chaos of censorship in public schools throughout the Commonwealth.
My own district of Daviess County has now encountered its own group known as the Daviess County Citizens For Decency Group, which demanded the removal of over 200 titles from the public library in August and previously protested outside the library during Pride Month. (According to the Owensboro Times, they were outnumbered by 100 counter protesters.) In recent events, the Daviess County Citizens For Decency Group sent open records requests to local school districts, such as Owensboro Independent School District and Daviess County Public Schools, for a list of books and media available to students. This dystopian-like censorship of factual material has become a reality further perpetuated. A dystopia created out of fear mongering about what is “harmful to minors.”
The bill coincides with Senate Bill 150 (SB 150), an anti-trans and pro-censorship bill. The combination of the two effectively damages a diverse and equitable education for students. Upon inspection, similarities in wording between these two bills comes apparent. The Courier Journal reported that SB 150 prohibits schools from talking about gender orientation or gender identity, and talk on STDs or human sexuality until sixth grade, with parental consent. SB 5 and 150 have created unnecessary consent forms for numerous other subjects, including those that do not contain topics listed under the bill, such as math or science courses. A fabricated scapegoat, a description created about a course that’s been made negative and false. Topics included in the description that are not a part of the course. These consent forms have forced many students to have their educational rights non-consensually stripped away from them by their parents/guardians.
Under the circumstances of the bill, courses such as AP Psychology and its variants are deemed “harmful to minors” as well. Books read under AP English courses like Language, Literature, Seminar, and Research can also be placed in this category. This censorship of educational institutions waters down the curriculum of the courses themselves.
These two bills, SB 5 and 150, also stand to impact the health and well-being of students. With the censorship of books, educational instruction, and the obliteration of sex-ed, a crisis is created for students with uteruses. Teachers and staff may not be able to help a student or educate them on periods or other questions these students may have during their growing years. By censoring an individual’s bodily understanding, someone may be lost or confused, further leading to a potential health hazard without proper hygiene being taught.
Moreover, the bill backs queer students into a corner. What once was a safe space has been stripped. Materials for those questioning themselves are being targeted. The inclusivity of all students of all backgrounds is being removed. Isolation of students is created through banning topics of “human sexuality.” Students with queer parents will lose voice and their representation in public schools. An erasure and corrosion of education.
Safe spaces like clubs such as GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) could potentially be removed under Senate Bill 5, due to parental complaints. These were places where people could learn from one another’s experience; where a student could be themselves without the fear of disownment from parents. A safe space deemed “harmful to minors.” According to the 2023 National Survey by the Trevor Project, only 38% of LGBTQ youth found their household to be supportive/affirming. The survey reports that trans and gender-queer individuals who had access to affirming homes, schools, or other spaces reported lower rates of attempted suicide. As the survey noted, LGBTQ youth are asking for materials around support/acceptance to be available, a topic and support materials that will be banned under Senate Bill 5.
This bill will leave students unprepared for the world. WLKY’s interview with Democratic Party Senator David Yates from Louisville states, “Education is the way… It removes the racism, the homophobia, the sexism.” This bill is a danger to many, as it tries to erase acceptance and understanding. It’s a danger for queer students that no longer have materials needed to understand themselves. It’s a danger, as it holds the potential to hide true history that’s not watered down. It’s censorship to the education of all students, a censorship of democracy.