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Republican lawmakers in Ohio have put forward their own version of Florida's "Parental Rights in Education" bill, legislation that prohibits teachers from giving lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity at younger grade levels.
H.B. 616, introduced by Republican state Reps. Jean Schmidt and Mike Loychik, states that no public school community school, or private school that accepts vouchers, shall "teach, use, or provide any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity" in kindergarten through third grade.
For students in grades four through twelve, discussion of these topics in "any textbook, instructional material, or academic curriculum" is restricted to material that is "age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
“The classroom is a place that seeks answers for our children without political activism,” said Schmidt in a statement to the Columbus Dispatch. “Parents deserve and should be provided a say in what is taught to their children in schools.”
Her proposal uses similar language to the Florida bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month, but there are important differences in how it is enforced.
While the Florida legislation opens schools up to face lawsuits if a teacher or school official violates the statewide standards and settles those suits in court, the Ohio bill creates an administrative process to resolve disputes over what is taught in the classroom.
The prohibition on sex and gender education in grades K-3 is enforced by permitting an individual to file a complaint against any teacher, school administrator, or school district superintendent who allegedly violates these standards. The accused would be granted a hearing by the state board of education to defend themselves, and then the Ohio superintendent of public instruction, a political appointee, will make an evidence-based decision on whether the accused person(s) violated the law.
An educator or school official found to have violated the proposed law could face suspension and the loss of state funding, depending on the severity of the offense.
H.B. 616 also bans teaching other "divisive concepts," including critical race theory, the 1619 Project, intersectional theory, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes, and inherited racial guilt.
Democratic opponents of the bill are calling it another "Don't Say Gay" bill, repeating false accusations thrown at the Florida law that the Ohio bill is too vague and that it will harm LGBTQ+ students and unfairly penalize teachers.
State Rep. Brigid Kelly, a Cincinnati Democrat, fears that the prohibition on certain "instructional materials" will mean "there can be no books of any kind that deal with any LGBTQ+ issues."
"We’re not giving people access to the tools, the materials, the lessons they need to prepare children for the diverse world that exists," Kelly told the Columbus Dispatch in an interview.
Ohio teachers unions are also opposed to the legislation.
"Fundamentally, these bills are cynical attempts to use race and now sexual orientation and gender identity as wedge issues to cause division and sow conflict and ultimately to score cheap political points," said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. "Legislators that are promoting these kinds of agendas ought to be ashamed of themselves."
The bill's supporters maintain that discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity are inappropriate for younger children and that laws are needed to keep such discussions out of the classroom until students are mature enough to have them.
"The real question is why do people want to sexualize kids at this age," said Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue. "Children need time to develop and grow up and parents should be guiding these discussions."
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