FILE - VA Gov. Ralph Northam, former VA Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (left) listens as his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, speaks.

(The Center Square) – In an exchange during Tuesday night's Virginia gubernatorial debate, Democratic candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he does not believe parents should tell schools what to teach during a discussion about sexually explicit materials in schools.

The former governor’s comments received strong criticism from conservatives and others nationally.

“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said during the debate. “...I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

McAuliffe’s comments were referencing legislation he vetoed in 2016 and 2017, which would have notified parents of sexually explicit content in education materials, such as books. The bills would have required the teachers to provide alternative instructional materials to any students whose parents objected to the sexually explicit content.

During the debate, Republican candidate, businessman and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin said school districts need to better inform parents about what their children are being taught.

“You believe school systems should tell children what to do,” Youngkin said. “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

Parental rights school curriculum has become a hot topic in Virginia politics over the past few months. Most recently, during a Fairfax County School Board meeting, parent Stacy Langton expressed her disapproval of two high schools having books that contain sexually explicit material: “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. Langton said both books contain pedophilic sex between men and boys and one contained a drawing of sexual acts, which she said was pornographic.

In recent months, parents from across the commonwealth have criticized the use of critical race theory in curriculums and transgender inclusion policies.

Chris Braunlich, a former president of the Virginia Board of Education, told The Center Square that McAuliffe’s position is akin to saying that parents cannot be trusted.

“One of the strengths of Virginia’s education system is that most curriculum decisions are supposed to be decided at the local level and, preferably, as close to the school and classroom level as possible, where the influence of parents is strongest,” Braunlich said. “It is precisely when the influence of parents is undercut that community support falters and reflects itself in bond referenda and a loss of enrollment: this has demonstrated itself over the public school administration during Covid.”

Braunlich currently serves as the president of the free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute.

Some critics of McAuliffe’s statements took to Twitter to voice their opposition.

The Center Square reached out to the state public teachers union, the Virginia Education Association, for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.