New Ohio bill combines ‘Don’t Say Gay’ with teaching restrictions on race

A bill has been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly that borrows from Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation and would also restrict teaching about racism and so-called divisive subjects.

House Bill 616, filed Monday by state Reps. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, and Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Twp., would target public schools, STEM schools, charter schools or private schools that accept students on state scholarships. It has not yet been referred to a legislative committee.

The House Republican Caucus released a statement Tuesday on HB 616.

“Children deserve a quality education that is fair, unbiased and age appropriate,” Loychik said in the news release. “This legislation promotes free and fair discussion.”

Democrats denounced the proposal, with House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, saying that legitimizing extremism is bad for Ohio families and the state’s long-term economic growth.

“Ohio can’t be an opportunity state if we don’t embrace our diversity and strive towards greater equality for all,” Russo said on Twitter. “These inflammatory bills are meant to divide, not address real issues faced by Ohioans.”

Students from kindergarten through grade 3 would be barred from learning anything about “sexual orientation or gender identity.” Students in grades 4 through 12 couldn’t receive any materials on sexual orientation or gender identity “in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

The bill calls for the creation of a complaint process so anyone could charge a teacher or administrator with violating those rules. Teachers could have their teaching licenses revoked and schools could lose state funding if they are found to have violated those rules, the bill says.

Teachers or students accused of violating those policies would be allowed a hearing. If a state superintendent finds that a complaint is true, the Ohio Department of Education would withhold funding “based on severity of the offense, to include a tiered funding penalty and terms for restoration of funds,” the news release says.

House Bill 616 would also prohibit schools and teachers from teaching or using instructional material “that promotes any divisive or inherently racist concept.”

Those include a now-standard list of culture-war buzzwords: Critical Race Theory, intersectional theory, the 1619 Project, plus “diversity equity, and inclusion learning outcomes” and “inherited racial guilt.”

But the bill adds “any other concept that the state board of education defines as divisive or inherently racist.”

“The classroom is a place that seeks answers for our children without political activism,” Schmidt said in the news release. “Parents deserve and should be provided a say in what is taught to their children in schools. The intent of this bill is to provide them with the tools to be able to see what their child is being taught.”

The Ohio Education Association condemned HB 616, saying it is “reprehensible on every level.”

“These politicians are continuing to use race and sexual orientation as wedge issues to score cheap political points, and they should be ashamed of themselves,” OEA President Scott DiMauro said. “Rather than persisting with these disingenuous attacks on educators and public schools, we need pro-public education policies that enable students to think critically about the world around them and empower them to be proud of who they are, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they express their gender identities, or who they – or their parents – love.”

The restrictions on teaching about race are broader than those in House Bill 327. That bill was introduced in May 2021 and referred to the House State & Local Government Committee, where it’s had five hearings, most recently in February. It attracted strong opposition at a September hearing for opponents and has not come up for a committee vote.

Meanwhile a bill to teach children how to avoid sexual abuse has languished in a Senate committee for months. House Bill 105, introduced in February 2021 by state Reps. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, and Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, is the latest attempt in Ohio to pass “Erin’s Law.”

Named for named for author and activist Erin Merryn, a survivor of child sexual abuse, the law has been adopted in some form by 37 states but has failed five times in Ohio.

The bill would require schools each year to provide age-appropriate instruction in child sexual abuse prevention for grades K-6, and age-appropriate instruction in sexual violence prevention education for grades 7-12. Parents or guardians would be notified of the scheduled lesson and allowed on request to inspect the instructional material.

The bill passed the House in June 2021 and has had two hearings in the Senate Primary & Secondary Education Committee — the most recent in October.

It has “hundreds” of supporters, and only one opponent, Lipps said: the Center for Christian Virtue.

“CCV is playing, of course, to the hard right,” he said. The group says any such education should come from parents, but many kids still don’t know how to identify sexual abuse, Lipps said.

Lipps said HB 105′s backers have polled committee members and senators in general, and the bill has enough support to pass. What it doesn’t have is the approval of the committee chair, state Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware.

Lipps and Kelly agreed to add a parental opt-out clause to the bill as a concession to Brenner, but the bill is still not scheduled for a committee vote that could bring it before the full Senate.

“What we have decided to do is go ahead and go public that the bill has a lot of strong support,” Lipps said. “It’s ready to pass.”

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