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The Ohio House passed a bill that Republicans say supports free speech in the classroom, but Democrats and educators disagree.
House Bill 214 would mandate school districts to establish policies that ban teachers, students and those applying for jobs from adhering to a certain political or ideological belief. The policies would be publicly available.
State Rep. Adam Holmes, R-Nashport, introduced the bill, which passed with a 64-30 vote in the House on Wednesday. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
“Ohio’s K-12 public schools must be forums for open expression, new ideas and diverse opinions and experiences,” Holmes said.
“Unfortunately, Ohio’s recent political climate has raised concerns that Ohio’s K-12 public school teachers, staff and students may face negative consequences for expressing certain political perspectives or failing to conform to specific ideological viewpoints.”
He argues this bill would protect free speech in the classroom and would provide protection for classroom discussion of political movements, ideologies and social action.
“A robust commitment to the free exchange of ideas and expression of differing viewpoints is not only critical for a successful learning environment, but also consistent with American values of free speech and individual value,” Holmes said in his sponsor testimony.
The Ohio School Board Constitutional Coalition supports HB 214.
“In addition to providing specific protection for free speech rights for public school employees, students and job applicants, HB214 will begin the important work of restoring the trust of parents and the community in our public schools,” OSBCC President Jeremiah Sawyer said in a statement.
However, Ohio Democrats and educators point out the Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio educators already exists as a policy with which teachers and administrators should comply. The Licensure Code was developed by the Educator Standards Board and the Ohio Department of Education and adopted by the State Board of Education in 2008, with updates added in 2019.
“It’s not clear at all why a bill like this is necessary but it is clear to me that it could cause some harm in terms of making it harder for teachers to do their job,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association.
He said the requirements outlined in the bill “are a bit vague and confusing.”
“It’s going to create work and extra hassle for districts,”DiMauro said. “But I think more than anything else, this bill is going to have a chilling effect on educators.”
Ohio Democrats critiqued the bill during Wednesday’s House session.
“This bill would create ambiguity and different policies across all school districts in the state of Ohio,” said Rep. Sean Brennan, D-Parma. “I fear this bill in its current form would impact recruitment and retention by causing teachers to be fearful that they are violating various policies.”
Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, echoed those remarks, saying the policies would be “redundant and confusing.”
“Imagine overnight, as a teacher, with everything else you have to do … imagine now you have 600 school districts who now have 600 different policies they can interpret,” he said.
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