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A McAuliffe Veto Has Become a Flash Point in the Governor's Race

Cliff Owen/AP
FR170079 AP
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, participate in their debate at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The debate between the major party candidates for governor this week is renewing a discussion about what books are taught to schoolchildren.

Toni Morrison's book "Beloved" may have won the Pulitzer Prize. But some parents don't want it taught in public schools, prompting a bill back in 2016 that would have allowed parents to block their children from reading sexually explicit books. Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed that bill, and this week that veto became a flashpoint in the debate between the former Democratic governor and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

"I'm not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions," McAuliffe said during the debate.

You vetoed it," Youngkin replied.

To which McAuliffe said, "Yeah, I stopped the bill. I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."

Jatia Wrighten, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says parents who don't want "Beloved" taught in the classroom already have options.

"Parents should not be able to go into public schools, and I emphasize that word ‘public,’ to determine what their students should or should not be reading," Wrighten explains. "If a parent would like to minimize the sort of literary works that are available to their child, they should place their child in a private school setting or a home school setting."

Youngkin has a new TV ad highlighting the exchange during the debate, and the Republican candidate for governor says parents should be in charge of their kids' education.

“Nothing can excuse the fact that Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have allowed parents to know when their child had been assigned to read sexually explicit material depicting criminal offenses," a spokeswoman for Youngkin said in a written statement. "Of course Youngkin would not have vetoed the bipartisan bills that McAuliffe blocked.”

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.