COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Republican lawmakers have put forward at least seven different bills that critics say censor education, with the latest being vague guidelines on so-called "sexually explicit" material.
House Bill 722, dubbed the "Parents' Bill of Rights Act," would require local schools to change how explicit information is taught. Introduced by State Reps. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) and Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton), the bill champions "parent transparency,” but opposers, like Equality Ohio, Honesty for Ohio Education and dozens of other progressive leaders and adovcates call it “censorship.”
Dina Hoeynck is a Shaker Heights parent to two daughters and is deeply worried about the future of education in the state — so worried that she recently resigned from being a teacher at Cleveland schools.
"It is indicative of an overall trend of de-professionalization in the teaching profession and a continuing trend of undervaluing teachers," Hoeynck said. "You know, infantilizing of teachers, honestly, which seems to be what this legislation is trying to do."
The slew of legislation aiming to curb discussions around "controversial" topics was one of the reasons she left. She also was severely burnt out, wanted fair pay for the amount of work she was doing and missed spending as much time with her kids, she added.
She loved teaching students, but seeing less and less professional autonomy from the state was exhausting, she said.
The bill broadly defines sexually explicit content as "any description of or any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual conduct."
News 5 asked for clarification on who decides what is explicit and what explicit entails (asking: "are there levels of severity? Is kissing explicit or is it just penetration?"), but the bill sponsors and their teams didn't respond.
The law would make teachers come up with two separate lessons for one topic if the instruction has anything deemed as "explicit" by the state, which parents could choose as an alternative.
Conrad Lindes, president of the Middleburg Heights GOP Club, said this makes the most sense.
"It's entirely appropriate, in my mind, for parents to know what's being offered and to be able to opt-in, rather than to hope that they have a chance to opt-out," Lindes said.
Sex and sexuality are morality issues, and parents should get to decide what kids learn, he added.
"Parents have delegated too much responsibility to schools and school boards for the education of their children," he said. "I think schools, school boards, teachers have maybe taken on more than really is appropriate."
Hoeynck asserted that there are already protocols in place for actual explicit content, such as permission waivers being sent home for sexual education.
"Kids whose parents were uncomfortable with them getting school-based sex education did not have to opt-in," she said.
News 5 asked why this bill was being proposed, because these explicit material opt-ins and outs were already available, but the sponsors and their teams didn't respond.
But not every school district is following those rules, Lindes said, however, no examples were provided.
"Unfortunately, the schools are not abiding by that law, which might be the reason why legislators feel like they have to pass a new law which maybe provides a way to enforce the law that already exists," he added.
News 5 asked if the bill would curb any discussions in biology or science classes, but the sponsors and their teams didn't respond.
One of the few main concerns of the bill is that it will ban books and also prevent discussions on the LGBTQ+ community, Hoeynck said.
LGBTQ+ groups have dealt with being labeled as "sexual" by some conservative groups, despite not doing anything explicit.
Lindes argued that isn't what the bill said at all.
"It would be sexually explicit regardless of who the two people are," he said. "For the LGB-so-on people, to say that they're being singled out, it is false."
The sponsors and their teams also did not respond to News 5 inquires about whether the bill would curb discussions on sexuality and gender.
It isn't as much about the literal language inside the bill, but it's the rhetoric seen throughout this General Assembly that worries groups like Equality Ohio and the Ohio Education Association. The laws are always vague and leave significant room for interpretation, they say.
"Are we not going to show our kids Disney movies anymore because the prince kisses the princess?" Hoeynck asked. "Because kissing is, by that broad of a definition, would that not be okay?"
This bill would also require schools to draft a policy that "promotes parental involvement in their child’s education" and would require the school to notify a parent of a change in their "student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being."
News 5 asked what changes parents would be informed of, but the sponsors and their teams didn't respond. News 5 also asked who has been advocating for this bill (if it had been parent interest groups, educators, etc.), but, once again, no response.
The educators and staff would also be prohibited from discouraging or prohibiting parental involvement in "critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being," similar to the controversial H.B. 454.
H.B. 454, introduced by state Reps. Gary Click (R-Sandusky) and Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland), would severely limit healthcare for transgender youth. It would require all Ohio schools to report to parents if their child mentions anything about their gender in a non-conforming way when talking to a counselor.
Hoeynck said it was "insulting" that Swearingen, a financial lawyer, and Carruthers, who used to work in "media," will be allowed to determine what educators do despite having no degree in education.
This isn't the first time non-educators have put forward education bills without having a background in education or consulting the Ohio Education Association or the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
Click is a pastor who got a degree in religious studies from an unaccredited school and Grendell used to be a judge of Ohio's Eleventh District Court of Appeals.
State Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, (R-Ashtabula) who is known internationally for telling News 5 that the Holocaust should be taught from "both sides," introduced one of the most controversial education bills of the term. She was homeschooled and never attended college. She is also homeschooling her kids.
Fowler Arthur's cosponsor is Grendell.
Back in March, News 5 aired an exclusive report about comments made by one of the primary sponsors of the original “divisive concepts” bill — H.B. 327. The report stemmed from an interview exchange between state Representative Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) and News 5 reporter Morgan Trau.
During the interview, Fowler Arthur was asked about the financial aspect of the bill. While attempting to talk about funding, she brought up the Holocaust, saying that students needed to hear the massacre from the perspective of the “German soldiers.”
After the exclusive story went international, the original divisive concepts bill has been renamed the “both sides bill” or the “both sides of the Holocaust bill.”
After the original divisive concepts bill was hijacked by becoming the Holocaust bill, up popped H.B. 616.
House Bill 616 states that no school district, community school, STEM school, non-public school that enrolls students who are participating in a state scholarship program, or any employee or other third party representing a school district or school, can teach any “divisive or inherently racist concepts.” That includes all of the critical race theory, intersectional theory, the 1619 project, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes and “inherited racial guilt.”
The next section of the bill touches on sexuality and gender identity, with bill sponsors saying it shouldn't be discussed in school.
The bill sponsors for this one are state Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta). Schmidt has been on government for most of her career and also coaches a cross-country team and Loychik is a small business owner.
One of the pieces of "censorship" is a new Ohio Board of Education resolution, which opposes protections for the LGBTQ+ community. This would technically be the eighth "censorship" statewide proposal.
Conservative state board member Brendan Shea introduced the "resolution to support parents, schools, and districts in rejecting harmful, coercive, and burdensome gender identity policies."
Shea is a financial advisor who is home-schooling his children.
The other "censorship" bills include H.B. 322, which is similar to H.B. 327, H.B. 61 and S.B. 132.
H.B. 61 and S.B. 132 are both censoring trans girls from being a part of athletic teams. They would ban transgender girls and women from participating in middle and high school and college athletics. It also comes with a “verification process” of checking the genitals of those “accused” of being trans.
"An irony to me about this kind of legislation is that the Republican Party says that they stand for smaller government, and then they're pushing a bill that would intrusively try to micromanage what happens in every district in the state," Hoeynck said about the plethora of bills.
Back to H.B. 722, since the bill was introduced so late in the year, advocates on each side wondered if it is just a tool to get people interested in the election.
Conservatives have said these types of bills show what the lawmakers will continue to put forward while they are in office, while progressives have said this is just throwing red meat to the base.
The bill could possibly be heard when lawmakers come back after the midterm election.
The State Board of Education is currently hearing public testimony on a resolution that would oppose LGBTQ+ protections, which in turn would prevent kids in low-income schools from getting free or reduced lunches.— Morgan Trau (@MorganTrau) September 20, 2022
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