Last month, a school in Utah sent a girl home for wearing a sleeveless dress. Last week, another school turned away a girl because she tried to attend a Valentine's Day dance without a date. And now there's this.
Yesterday (Feb. 25), the Kansas Senate passed a bill that makes it possible to imprison teachers who distribute so-called inappropriate materials -- from sex ed textbooks to several works of classic literature -- to their students.
The Kansas legislature already had a law in place that criminalized promoting material "harmful to minors," but certain institutions, such as schools and museums, were previously exempt from this rule for educational purposes. Senate Bill 56, which overwhelmingly passed with a 26-14 vote, removes that exemption specifically for schools within the state.
Here's how it happened and why it matters, no matter where you live:
It all started with an educational poster ... and an outraged parent.
The bill became a thing after a parent complained about his 13-year-old daughter seeing a sex ed poster hung up at Hocker Grove Middle School in Shawnee, Kansas.
"There was a list of sexual acts, some of which were highly offensive [on the poster]," Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, the bill's sponsor, told KMBC 9 News. (The poster mentioned "kissing," "sexual fantasy" and "anal sex" as ways "people express their sexual feelings," reports MSNBC.)
The parent wanted the poster taken down, but he met a lot of opposition in his fight to have it removed. Thus, Senate Bill 56 was born. Pilcher-Cook wants to prevent educators from exposing their students to what some consider unnecessarily offensive or sexual materials.
The bill's language is so broad that anything can be considered inappropriate, say legal experts.
It makes sense that parents don't want teachers giving their kids "Fifty Shades Of Grey" crossword puzzles in the classroom. But critics mostly have a problem with the wording of the bill.
"The language of the bill is very, very broad, such that it could cover just about anything that someone somewhere might object [to]," Dr. Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas, told MTV News. "[It applies] to books, to posters, to pamphlets, to flyers, to the handouts, to movies, to CDs -- just about anything that a teacher might distribute or have [their] class look at."
In addition to many sex ed materials, Kubic explained that thanks to Bill 56, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" and novels by Toni Morrison could land a teacher in hot water if they introduce controversial topics in class. And almost any topic could be considered controversial.
"There's no real hard and fast rule on what is prohibited," Kubic says.
Teachers will likely water down the lessons and topics they teach.
With such harsh penalties, educators might be risking their freedom by, well, educating.
"What teacher in their right mind is going to talk about anything potentially controversial if they have the possibility of jail time hanging over their heads?" Kubic said.
Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director at ACLU Kansas, told us that "[Senate bill 56] could certainly dumb down sex ed classes." He explained that in order for a teacher to be charged with a crime, a prosecutor -- not a parent -- must deem the teacher's actions as harmful to minors. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to six months of jail time.
Due to the bill's wording, "the prosecutor could take a broad view of what's harmful to minors," Bonney said.
What happens next?
Senate Bill 56 has so far only passed in the Kansas Senate, but it was introduced in the state's House of Representatives earlier today. The House may amend the bill, in which case it will go back to the Senate for another round of voting, or they may pass it. If the bill passes, it'll then go to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who can either sign the bill to put it into effect or veto it.
"We're still hopeful that legislators will see the concern that people have about this bill and not pass it," Kubic told us. "But it's gotten pretty far along too, so there's definitely reason to be be concerned."
For information about birth control and sexual health, visit MTV's It's Your Sex Life.