State Sen. Dave Argall (R-29) responded to criticism he’s facing from a conservative activist group over a Senate bill aimed at giving parents control over sexual content in schools.
Earlier this month, the conservative group called Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania sent out a robocall which claimed Argall was siding with Democrats in the Senate because he apparently balked at moving Senate Bill 7 through the Education Committee he chairs.
CAP says Argall should have moved SB 7 through the Education Committee meeting in early June but instead, helped advance a bill that would create a controversial peer tutoring bill to the full Senate. Schuylkill County’s 4 members of the House of Representatives actually split on that legislation in a prior vote.
The verbatim transcript of the robocall goes like this:
Good afternoon, this is Ashley with Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, your State Senator, Dave Argall, had the opportunity to advance legislation that mandates transparency in our students’ curriculum and empowers parents to remove sexually explicit materials from Pennsylvania’s classrooms.
As chairman of the Education Committee, Senator Argall decided to force the committee to vote on a Bill championed by the Democrats. This legislation gives the Dept. of Education even more authority over tutoring programs. Despite all of the problems with this Bill, your Senator voted it out of committee in record time.
Why did Senator Argall advance a bill championed by House Democrats in his Committee when a majority of Republicans in that chamber voted against it? Senator Argall had every opportunity to stand with Pennsylvania’s parents and students. Instead, he used his position of power to expand the reach of Harrisburg.
Who is Senator Argall really fighting for? Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania robocall transcript
In a statement released to The Canary, Argall said “The robocall is completely inaccurate.”
He further explained the status of SB 7, on which he’s a co-sponsor with Sen. Ryan Aument (R-36), and why it wasn’t advanced in the Education Committee, as the CAP robocall says it should’ve been.
“I’m a co-sponsor of Senator Ryan Aument’s bill to give parents control over whether their children are exposed to sexually explicit content,” Argall said. “I told Sen. Aument weeks ago that as soon as he has completed the fine-tuning of his bill, I’m prepared to call up his bill for a vote as the new Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.”
Details of Senate Bill 7 – Parental Control of Sexually Explicit Content in Pennsylvania Schools
Senate Bill 7 would grant parents more control over the instructional materials and books containing sexually explicit content available to their children in public schools. This new regulation mandates:
- Schools must develop a public policy that offers parents control over educational materials with sexually explicit content. This includes providing specific identification of these materials used in classrooms and libraries.
- Implementation of an opt-in form that allows parents or guardians to give permission for their children to access sexually explicit content. Without this permission, the student must be given alternative non-explicit instructional materials.
- The opt-in form must define sexual conduct and list the titles of books and materials with sexually explicit content.
- Parents or legal guardians are allowed to review any instructional materials and library books with sexually explicit content on request.
- Prior to adopting these policies, the school must seek public input at a forum, and the policy must be adopted by August 30, 2023.
- Schools can implement additional transparency measures for sexually explicit content and determine if such content is not suitable for minors or students of certain ages, even if it wouldn’t violate other laws.
- The distribution of sexually explicit materials to minors that are prohibited by other law is not permitted.
Democrat’s Freedom to Read Act
Even if SB 7 eventually gets by the full Senate, it’ll likely encounter a road block in the House of Representatives.
A competitive piece of legislation was just introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by Rep. Paul Friel (D-26). Friel’s HB 1506 is called the Freedom to Read Act.
A co-sponsor memo circulated among House members states the Freedom to Read Act aims to manage the increasing frequency of book challenges and calls for removal of educational resources in schools. The memo says the bill addresses two key points:
- Students should have the right to access a wide range of age-appropriate educational resources.
- Parents should have the right to exclude their child from accessing resources that violate their beliefs.
However, the memo emphasizes guarding First Amendment rights for students, even when certain individuals disapprove of a book. It references the case of Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, where it was stated that books can only be removed based on educational appropriateness, not due to disagreements with its content.
HB 1506 also proposes that there must be an appeals process when calls for the removal or restriction of a book or educational resource are made due to questions about its educational value or age appropriateness.
The proposed legislation aims to streamline this process by assigning responsibility for reviews to a regional committee of instructional experts, including teachers, librarians, principals, and administrators.