Race education bills get big turnout in legislature, most urging opposition

Amendment to bill targets K-12 education

By: - September 24, 2021 12:45 am

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Both bills that would change the way racial issues are taught in schools appeared in an Ohio House committee this week, and the overwhelming majority of citizen speakers wanted to see the proposed legislation go away.

House bills 322 and 327 were up for committee consideration on Wednesday, and Republicans amended HB 322 to specifically target K-12 education in banning “divisive concepts” that they say pit one race against another or explain history in a way that “blames” any race for the oppression of another.

The two amendments with “clarifying language,” according to state Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, specified the Ohio State Board of Education and the state Department of Education as the state agencies overseeing provisions in the bill, which leaves out the Ohio Department of Higher Education, thus exempting colleges and universities from the regulations.

Another amendment considered during the House State & Local Government Committee meeting broadened the types of classes where the provisions of HB 322 would apply, making the “divisive subjects” prohibitions apply to all instruction, instead of just subjects like social studies or U.S. government.

State Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, asked a question to Wilkin about the amendments, specifically a part of the amendments that would bar any teacher from allowing credit for lobbying or acting on issues of public policy.

Kelly brought up examples of fourth-grade students who came to the Statehouse to lobby for state butterfly designations or other ceremonial but educational civic issues.

“I’m just wondering if this amendment would prohibit things like that, because that is public policy advocacy and lobbying,” Kelly said.

Wilkin responded to Kelly by saying “I don’t think it would” apply to those circumstances.

“I had not thought about the fourth graders… who came in on the butterfly bill,” Wilkin said.

Committee chair Scott Wiggam, R-Wayne County, jumped in to confirm that the bill prohibits giving school credit for lobbying or policy advocacy.

With further questions on the how the policy advocacy piece of the amendment would impact students, Wiggam asked that Wilkin withdraw the amendment on broadening subject matters.

The amendment designating the ODE and state school board as state agencies overseeing the proposed legislation was added to the bill along party lines.

A few supporters of the bills came to a previous hearing on both bills, but on Wednesday, dozens of speakers gave their thoughts.

Members of state teachers unions, the Ohio Council for Social Studies, the Athens Asian American Alliance, the Ohio Poverty Law Center and the ACLU came in opposition to the bills, as well as a newly-formed coalition called “Honesty for Ohio Education,” all had members represented against the measures.

Coalition member Akii Butler, who is also a member of the Ohio Student Association felt strongly enough about the bills to conduct online workshops  and helping spur more than 1,000 letters against the racial theory bills.

“They make it seem as if discussion of these so-called ‘divisive concepts’ — race, religion, gender and more — is an attack on students,” Butler said in a statement. “As if talking about America’s true history somehow hurts students when, in fact, teaching them the full history of this country can only help them.”

The hearings came the day after protests on both sides of the issue took over the front steps of the ODE as the state board of education held their September meeting. On one side, a “read-in” of Black authors and anti-racism literature happened to proclaim support for teaching race as an impact on society and history.

On the other side, members of anti-critical race theory groups spoke out against what they said was “Marxist” indoctrination of children, calling critical race theory they say is being taught in state public schools an attack on students’ ability to get equal education.

Some of the state board of education members are in support of bills prohibiting race theory from schools, and spoke up about it themselves at a past committee hearings. Members of the board who see racial discussions in education as a threat to a students education even asked the Ohio Attorney General to issue an opinion on a resolution condemning racism passed by the board in July.

Neither of the bills received a vote on Wednesday, and Wiggam said the committee plans to hold further hearings in the next few weeks.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.