In the dark, narrow world of Jane Cunningham, predators lurk around every corner.
That doesn’t make Mrs. Cunningham, a Republican Missouri state senator from Chesterfield that much different from other paranoid, delusional people.
The difference is in the nature of the menace. Where other people see villains with bombs, guns, and knives at every turn, Mrs. Cunningham believes the enemy is planning a sneak attack on morality.
The enemies, according to Jane Cunningham, are public schoolteachers and librarians.
Every year, Mrs. Cunningham takes her shots at public schoolteachers through legislation that usually draws attention, but never achieves any results. In an interview last week with the Columbia Daily Tribune, she indicated that is likely to change during the 2011 session.
With a larger Republican majority in both chambers, it appears jobs, contrary to what has been stated, may not be the only item on the agenda.
Last week, Mrs. Cunningham prefiled two bills, which should raise concerns.
SB 51 would require public libraries “to adopt policies on the placement of books and other materials that are obscene or pornographic for minors.”
The bill description Is as follows:
This act requires public libraries, by January 1, 2012, to adopt written policies, consistent with contemporary community standards, on the placement of books and other materials to restrict minors from gaining access to material that is obscene or pornographic for minors. Exempted books and materials include those in collections that require the written permission of a parent or guardian of an unemancipated minor. Policies must also contain procedures for members of the public to challenge the placement of such books and other materials and provide comments and guidance on the library policies.
As an alternative, any library that does not adopt written policies must prominently display a statement that the library may contain uncensored materials that may be objectionable and offensive to minors.
Libraries must include in their annual report the number of complaints about placement of books and their resolution. Library policies must be recorded with the city or county and made available to the public at the library and city or county government office.
A library board member, officer, or employee who violates this section is subject to a misdemeanor.
Is this really a matter of pressing public concern? Are we being besieged with evil librarians who are doing their best to ensure that every child is exposed to obscene materials?
And, of course, Mrs. Cunningham has reintroduced the Amy Hestir Student Protection Bill, SB 54 , the one whose time she believes has arrived.
The bill has the laudable goal of preventing the sexual abuse of children, but it adds whole new layers of bureaucracy and requirements for school districts and the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Teachers and other school employees are already required to be fingerprinted and have background checks run before they can be hired, but under Mrs. Cunningham’s bill, school districts would be required to run a thorough online search about each potential employee before that person can be hired.
And, as she does every year, Mrs. Cunningham is ready to cut off all Facebook communication between teachers and students.
While Facebook and other social networking sites are a convenient target for lawmakers who see perverts in every direction, the simple fact is that more and more teachers are using the technology effectively and in an educational manner to communicate with students.
You can ban teachers from communicating via Facebook or through any other social networking site, but that is not going to stop those people who bring disgrace on our profession from achieving their goals.
They can still communicate by telephone calls, text messages, and face-to-face. In fact, all three are far more likely to occur than the perverted scenario envisioned by Mrs. Cunningham.
We all know of teachers who have brought shame to themselves and to an honorable calling. We have all heard of librarians who have a penchant for bringing attention to provocative and controversial material.
What we don’t need is this grandstanding grandmother labeling all teachers and librarians as predators who cannot be trusted with our children.
At a time when there are so many real problems facing Missouri, when this state is mired in an economic crisis, the last thing we need is to waste more taxpayer money allowing Jane Cunningham to chase phantoms.