Alaska attorney general weighs in on hot-button education issues

Alaska attorney general weighs in on hot-button education issues
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 2:40 PM AKST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor is clarifying state statutes that deal directly with a variety of recent hot-button issues in education, such as parental and transgender student rights.

Earlier this week, the state’s top lawyer wrote letters to the state’s Department of Education and Early Development (DEED), as well as leaders in school districts and libraries around Alaska, outlining his interpretation of state law.

Under state law, according to Taylor, parents must receive at least two weeks’ notice before schools can teach about gender identity, just like they would for teaching about other human reproduction or sexual matters.

In addition to explaining the state’s parental notification statute, specifically how it relates to discussing gender identity in schools, Taylor also shed light on laws relevant to discussions around banning books due to their sexual content.

“In light of the questions and concerns that have come up, I thought it best to inform everyone of what the law says to avoid further confusion. Whether or not there has been a violation of the law will always be a fact-specific inquiry, so these letters do not cast any blame. The purpose is simply to provide information that can help school districts and libraries comply with the law,” Taylor wrote in the release.

“We all want the best education possible for our children, and working together we can ensure that parents, students, and teachers all have the information they need to accomplish that common goal.”

In a letter to Alaska libraries, Taylor wrote that he had been contacted by many concerned parents, community members and school board members on the topic of a minor’s ability to access to inappropriate books, such as those containing sexual content.

Library boards both in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley have looked carefully at this issue.

This spring, a member of the Anchorage Library’s advisory board pushed to have the book, “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human” taken off shelves designated for young people. The board member said he believed the book — which uses both words and pictures to address subjects like pornography, sexually transmitted diseases and practices like sexting — broke the municipal law by disseminating indecent materials to minors.

“I want it to be very clear where I stand on this, that book should not be in the hands of any child in this city,” board member Doug Weimann said.

More recently, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District created a Library Citizens Advisory Committee to review 56 books already removed from school shelves. The committee is also considering whether the books break the laws dealing with the distribution of indecent material to minors.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Parental Rights in Education bill introduced earlier this year sides with Taylor’s interpretation of the parental notification law but more explicitly delves into laws around gender identity coursework. Dunleavy’s bill would also require written permission from a parent before a child can change their pronouns at school.

“We don’t want to catch anyone off guard — quite the opposite. We want to be transparent and hold ourselves as a resource to answer questions and prevent any issues from occurring,” Taylor said.