Ohio Legislature eyes divisive education bills
- Published: March 20, 2022
Two bills that target the teaching of “divisive” issues in Ohio’s schools continue to be discussed in committee after being introduced last year.
The proposed legislation, House Bills 322 and 237, caused a public furor across the state amid the politicized controversy over so-called critical race theory last summer and into the fall, but the status of the bills has garnered little public attention in 2022.
Specifically, House Bill 322 opposes “the teaching of certain current events and certain concepts regarding race and sex in public schools,” as summarized in its official title. Expanding 322’s intent, HB 327 seeks “to prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts,” according to its summary.
Both bills were introduced May 25 with Republican partisan support and sent to the House’s State and Local Government Committee on June 10.
The proposed legislation has since remained at the committee stage, with the most recent action involving a revision to HB 327 adopted Feb. 16. The committee was scheduled to meet this week, on Wednesday, March 9, and while neither bill was on the agenda distributed in advance of the meeting, opponents feared HB 327 might be presented for a vote that would send it to the House floor for consideration by the larger body.
Supporters of the bills say they work to promote America’s core values and seek to curtail the dissemination of concepts considered detrimental to students and society, particularly regarding race and American history. Opponents say the proposed legislation dangerously limits educational freedom, “whitewashes” history and further marginalizes students of color and LGBTQ students. In addition teachers would be under scrutiny to conform to the bills’ mandates, with their jobs in jeopardy if they stray.
The 15-member State and Local Government Committee includes 10 Republicans and five Democrats, two of whom are Black. One of the Republican members is Bill Dean, of Xenia, who represents District 74, just east of Yellow Springs’ District 73. The committee currently has 64 bills under consideration in addition to 322 and 327, according to the General Assembly’s records.
Rep. Don Jones (R), of District 95 in eastern Ohio, is the lead sponsor of HB 322, which has 27 cosponsors. Four of those cosponsors are on the State and Local Government Committee, including the chair, vice chair and Xenia’s Dean. Phil Plummer, of Dayton, is also a cosponsor.
The bill has had three hearings, with sponsor Jones testifying on June 15, six additional proponents offering testimony June 23, and about 320 opponents providing testimony against the bill on Sept. 22. The three groups speaking in favor were identified as the National Association of Scholars, First Baptist Church of Miamisburg and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. More than 30 groups logged their opposition, including the ACLU, the League of Women Voters, the Ohio Education Association, the Columbus Board of Education and the Ohio School Psychologists Association.
The primary sponsors of HB 327 are Rep. Diane Grendell (R), of District 76, and Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R), of District 99, both in northeastern Ohio and both members of the State and Local Government Committee. Thirty-four cosponsors, including the State and Government Committee’s chair, vice chair, Xenia’s Dean and four additional committee members, as well as Dayton’s Plummer and A. Nino Vitale, of Urbana, signed on in support of the legislation.
Brian Lampton, who represents District 73, including Yellow Springs, has not attached his name to either bill
The committee has held five hearings on HB 327, with 31 proponents, in addition to the two sponsors, giving testimony in favor of the legislation, and about 145 opponents testifying against.
Among the six groups in favor were: the Protect Ohio Children Coalition, Ohio Value Voters, the Center for Christian Virtue and the Ohio Christian Alliance. Among the more than 15 groups in opposition were: the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio, Athens Parents for Racial Equity, the ACLU, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Council for the Social Studies.
Locally, the Yellow Springs school board joined a number of elected bodies in denouncing the proposed legislation by unanimously approving an official statement last fall.
“Yellow Springs Schools has long had a commitment to a rigorous curriculum that helps our students grow into active citizens contributing to the intellectual and cultural richness of the community,” the statement begins. “We have also been committed to providing the skills and knowledge necessary for students to become socially responsible, self-directed, life-long learners.
Never has the understanding of history been more vital to accomplishing those goals,” it continues.
House Bills 322 and 327 “subvert those objectives,” the board asserted, calling the bills “a political stunt designed to polarize our state and our nation.”
The board concluded by calling on others to stand with the school district and speak out against these “dangerous” bills.
With the possibility of one or both bills soon moving back to the full House, supporters and opponents are urging voters to contact their representatives to make their wishes known. If approved by the House, the bills will then go to the Senate. Ultimate approval will require passage by both the House and Senate and the signature of the governor.