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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Protesters call controversial Ohio House bill an 'educational gag order'

 Protesters gather at a church in downtown Columbus to rally against HB616, which is similar to Florida legislation that opponents dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill. [Daniel Konik / Statehouse News Bureau]
Protesters gather at a church in downtown Columbus to rally against HB616, which is similar to Florida legislation that opponents dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Opponents gathered in Columbus to protest against a bill that would ban educators from teaching about certain concepts related to race, sexual orientation and more.

Those who gathered cheered as speakers outlined what they see as specific problems with the controversial legislation.

The bill, HB616, would ban the teaching of certain concepts Republican supporters have deemed “divisive” in Ohio’s K-12 schools.

But Cynthia Peeples, Honesty for Ohio Education founder, said the bill goes too far.

“It’s really creating more division and harm, than actually protecting students as the proponents of the bill would like you to believe," Peeples said.

Peeples called the bill an "educational gag order" that would ban education, discussion and curriculum around gender identity and sexual orientation for young elementary students. She said, while it would allow some of that education for older students as long as it is age- and developmentally inappropriate, the bill is vague on what that actually means.

The Ohio bill would give local school districts authority to determine and select textbooks, educational materials, and academic curriculum but none of those things could include Critical Race Theory (which isn't currently being taught in K-12 schools), Intersectional Theory, The 1619 Project and inherited racial guilt.

It would also prevent schools from conducting many programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, something many educators say helps prevent bullying in schools by giving students a better opportunity to understand their different perspectives to certain ideas and situations.

Organizations representing Ohio's educators have come out in opposition of this bill.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) said in testimony to a House committee that the legislation would still allow for age-appropriate instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity after third grade.

“Our youngest children, especially seven-, eight-, or nine-year-olds, need to focus on developing their skills and being children. They should not be focused on sexual-related matters. To be clear, this bill does not ban teaching these things. In fact, as my colleague pointed out, this instruction starts as early as the fourth grade and must be age appropriate to a child’s development,” said Schmidt.

But opponents note that the bill includes penalties for educators who are accused of teaching these banned subjects.

The language in this Ohio bill is similar to Florida legislation. Opponents dubbed that Florida measure the “Don’t Say Gay” bill which is now a law. The idea behind this bill has led to similar legislation in more than 40 states. In Ohio, HB616 has been assigned to a House committee with one hearing for sponsor testimony. Additional hearings are not likely until after the November general election.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.