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Bill could put appointees of Ohio lawmakers, governor in charge of K-12 social studies standards

Students walk past a bank of lockers in a Central Ohio high school.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Students walk past a bank of lockers in a Central Ohio high school.

A Republican-sponsored bill seeks to create new standards for social studies in K-12 schools in Ohio through a task force appointed by state lawmakers and the governor, using a civics program developed by a conservative coalition that's been fighting mandating diversity training and other policies that it sees as hindering free speech from the right.

Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport), a former teacher, told a House committee the task force would use the conservative American Birthright civics standards to replace existing ones that he says are vague, lacking in academic rigor and are vulnerable to teachers’ political ideologies.

“The standards are liberty focused and based on a proud telling of America's liberty story," Jones said. "The new standards will stand in the way of those who misrepresent America's origins, such as the 1619 Project and A People's History of the United States.”

"This bill only seeks to set new standards and does not dictate any curriculum. We will leave that up to our teachers. Instead, these standards will serve as guardrails rooted in teaching the rich history of America," Jones said.

"I think because anything that is done by this task force has come back to the General Assembly, we need to have a little knowledge and input of what what's being done. And I think there are therefore the three from the House and the three from the Senate need to be current members of the General Assembly. And the governor's at his pleasure."

The House speaker, Senate president and the governor would each appoint three people to the task force.

Committee members Joe Miller (D-Amherst) and Sean Brennan (D-Parma), both former teachers, said they’re concerned these standards would be hyper partisan, since elected officials would be appointing other elected officials to the task force, and could affect college credit programs. And there were questions about the cost to the state to change those standards, and the time and effort teachers would have to expend.

The American Birthright civics program comes from the Civics Alliance, a coalition formed by the National Association of Scholars. That's a conservative organization that has raised concerns about diversity standards, affirmative action and multiculturalism on college campuses. The Civics Alliance's website notes it's "delighted" at Senate Bill 83, the bill that seeks to make sweeping changes in higher education in Ohio by banning mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training and requiring that "faculty remains committed to expressing intellectual diversity and allowing intellectual diversity to be expressed.” The bill is aimed at conservative criticism of universities for not encouraging "intellectual diversity," but critics say it will do the opposite and chill free speech on campus.

Jones is no stranger to controversial bills in education. In 2021, he sponsored a bill to ban "critical race theory" in K-12 schools, though that is a college-level concept not taught in elementary, middle or high schools.

House Bill 103 has had two hearings, and has a third hearing this week, but a vote isn’t scheduled.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.