Race theory education bill gets changes sponsors hope make it more ‘positive’

By: - November 1, 2021 12:40 am

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One of two bills currently in the Ohio legislature attempting to address “critical race theory” in schools has received some changes sponsors say are in response to criticism.

In the last year, conservative activists and politicians have launched an attack on “critical race theory,” which generally is not taught at the K-12 level and is instead an academic theory of the intersection of race and U.S. law that is studied in college.

House Bill 327 appeared in the House State and Local Government Committee briefly on Thursday, just to adopt a substitute version of the bill. The original version targeted “divisive subjects,” and the promotion of topics in K-12 and higher education that could make certain student groups feel uncomfortable.

It and another bill introduced shortly after it with similar aims have been the source of protests and the topic of conversation at Ohio State Board of Education, which has been dealing with its own heated debates on the subject.

State Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula, said changes for HB 327 come as she and cosponsor state Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland, try to “be responsive to testimony” and “remove ambiguous language” in the bill.

“It is our hope that these changes will address the concerns brought forward by the testimony last month and that this bill will be positive for the committee moving forward,” Fowler Arthur said in Wednesday’s committee meeting.

The changes would be more specific on the definition of “promote” or “promotion” of topics, and allow for protections and accountability for teachers. The new language would allow students at the higher education level to have an appeals process “through the current university model” for cases “where they believe there may be an instance of indoctrination in the classroom.”

Fowler Arthur said there were also be provisions to “specifically ensure that teaching about divisive concepts and a complete history of the United States, including slavery, oppression and segregation are expected and protected, while specifying that promotion of or using tax dollars to indoctrinate into a partisan philosophy or ideology is a misuse of funds.”

The Ohio Education Association, who was already an opponent of the bill, said the changes did not assuage their concerns about the intentions of the bill.

“Attempts to clear up the the confusion created by the language of the earlier version of this bill have led to even further confusion about what can and cannot be taught and do nothing to address the serious underlying problems in the legislation,” the OEA said in a statement.

The education coalition Honesty for Ohio Education, which partners with groups such as thinktank Policy Matters Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Ohio education organizations, recognized the effort to address concerns about the bill, but said it “fails to clarify why this legislation is needed in the first place.”

“What HB 327 would allow or disallow in educational settings remains unclear and the core nature of the bill is punitive as it has the potential to withhold essential state funding from K-12 schools, colleges and universities, state agencies and political subdivisions,” the coalition stated on Wednesday after the substitute bill was introduced.

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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 Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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