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Multicultural K-12 education bill introduced in Ohio House by AAPI women's group

OPAWL and State representative Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) are hosting a campaign launch event Tuesday.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
OPAWL and State representative Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) are hosting a campaign launch event Tuesday.

A group focused on promoting Ohio's Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is backing a new bill that would bring a more multicultural approach to social studies in K-12 schools.

House Bill 171 was created through the grassroots efforts of OPAWL, the Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Leadership. HB 171 would expand curricula on history and culture to include more about the migration history, societal contributions and experiences of cultural minority groups, many of which are not specified in Ohio’s current education requirements.

"Especially since Ohio's population has been growing and changing so much over the past few decades, we want to make sure that specific communities are mentioned is this model curriculum,” said Tessa Xuan, OPAWL’s co-director.

African American communities, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, Arab, African, and North African immigrant, refugee and asylee communities, Appalachian communities, Jewish communities, Latin American communities and Native American communities are listed in the bill.

“All of whom have called Ohio home for a long time,” Xuan said. “This up-to-date curriculum would include teachings about communities that have historically been left out of the curriculum.”

OPAWL is calling the campaign push for HB 171 the "Educating for Ohio’s Future" campaign. OPAWL and State representative Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), HB 171’s primary legislative sponsor, are hosting a campaign launch event Tuesday morning in Columbus. There are 13 cosponsors, all Democrats.

If passed, the bill would start the process of updating Ohio’s education requirements in Summer 2024.

“How did population of Ohio end up looking like it does today? How did people get here? What happened after people arrived in Ohio? What were their experiences as well as the ways that they contribute to society? We’re hoping to see that integrated throughout the curriculum,” Xuan said.

Other racial minority advocacy groups around Ohio are backing OPAWL in the effort, including the Young Latino Network, the Freedom Bloc and the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In a national survey from 2021 conducted at Stop AAPI Hate, an organization created in 2020 to report hate crimes and racist acts toward AAPI people after an uptick of COVID-19-related racism, most AAPI respondents said ethnic studies for educational equity would is the most effective solution to racism.

“Building a model curriculum that helps all kids learn better, helps all kids be seen in their classroom and to build more respect in our kids for our shared dignity and humanity,” Xuan said. “I am excited to continue to fight for the chance for these kids to see their stories reflected in the curriculum.”

Xuan said OPAWL wanted to build off the momentum of Senate Bill 214 from the legislature’s last session. It would have required the teaching of Asian American and Pacific Islander history and culture.

SB 214 was introduced by former Democratic State Senator Tina Maharath, who lost her re-election bid in 2022. It was cosponsored by former Democratic State Senator Kenny Yuko, who retired after the legislature’s last session.

HB 171 comes at a time when Ohio lawmakers are considering another measure — Senate Bill 83. It originally sought to ban mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training in higher ed. A revised version would allow such training in certain circumstances, such as being necessary for a school's accreditation.

There’s also a Republican-sponsored bill seeking to create new standards for social studies in K-12 schools in Ohio through a task force appointed by state lawmakers and the governor.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.