- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow teachers and school administrators to be prosecuted for presenting material perceived as harmful to minors.

The bill passed the Senate last year and was considered in a House committee Tuesday, the Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1UJBBts ) reported. It stems from a 2014 controversy in the Shawnee Mission school district over a poster in a sex education classroom that listed oral sex and other acts as ways people express their sexual feelings.

Children could have been irreparably harmed by viewing the poster “because it affects their brains,” according to the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee.

“State laws should protect parents’ rights to safeguard our children against harmful materials, especially in schools,” she said.

Currently, state law protects school officials against the misdemeanor charge of presenting harmful material to minors if it’s part of a lesson. The proposed legislation would remove that protection for teachers at public, private and parochial schools.

Teachers would face a fine or up to six months in jail if convicted of the charge.

Opponents are concerned that educators would be vulnerable to prosecution for presenting controversial works of art and literature.

Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita asked whether a teacher could be prosecuted for showing an image of Michelangelo’s sculpture David, which depicts male genitalia, or for teaching Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” which features sexual puns.

Pilcher-Cook pointed to a section of the bill that defines harmful material as material “a reasonable person would find … lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value.”

When Carmichael continued to press the issue, Pilcher-Cook said individual prosecutors and juries will be responsible for determining whether something is considered harmful material.

The bill also would deter teachers from using inappropriate material in the classroom, according to Pilcher-Cook, who said the fact that the poster was “posted without fear is a problem in and of itself.”

Tom Witt, a gay-rights activist who testified against the bill on behalf of his husband who’s a public school teacher, believes the bill is meant “to strike fear into the hearts of teachers.”

“Here’s what my husband wants to know: Which of the books on the list are going to send him to jail?” Witt said. “That’s all we need to know.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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