Earlier this year Governor McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have given parents of public school students a say in assigned readings. Now, it's up to schools to make that decision. Last week, the administrators of a rural high school in a conservative county did just that, asking an award-winning author invited to speak to leave.
Steve Watkins describes his Young Adult books as realist fiction. They take on sobering subjects like juvenile detention and post-traumatic stress disorder affecting military families. Northumberland High School on the Northern Neck invited Watkins to speak at an assembly. As he read aloud parts where characters cursed, some students and staff became upset.
"It's not like you cuss in your classrooms or you should. This is literature, I mean, this is the work of literature. Beyond that, I think they were into the story and asked questions about where I got the ideas."
Watkins was apologetic but surprised. He's been touring the state reading the excerpts and discussing writing at schools and libraries and had not encountered this kind of reaction. Principal Travis Burns says when a student checks a book out of the library, that's a choice. But these students were required to attend the program.
"Different communities might respond differently to different types of presentations. This presentation was probably a little too provocative for our students. Maybe not all students, but in general for our community, it was a little too provocative."
Burn's interrupted Watkins and asked him to stop reading any profanity. Watkins complied. Later as Watkins was addressing an English class about writing, school administrators relayed a message asking that he leave immediately.
"There's always been this tension between the realists and the romanticists. The romanticists want life to be the way they think it should be and realists want to present it the way it is."
Watkins, who lives in Fredericksburg, plans to continue his tour -- which includes a presentation October 20th at the Virginia Association of School Librarians Annual Conference. You can read about his books here.