Republican Reps. Jean Schmidt and Mike Loychik Monday introduced House Bill 616, which is similar to the bill recently signed into law in Florida but goes into more depth on some topics. It states that public schools or private ones that accept vouchers cannot "teach, use, or provide any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity" in grades K-3, and that in higher grades, these subjects cannot be addressed "in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
It would additionally ban "any curriculum, instructional material, or assignment designed to promote or endorse divisive or inherently racist concepts," under which it includes antiracism materials such as The 1619 Project, a series of New York Times articles on slavery and its legacy that has also been published as a book.
"The classroom is a place that seeks answers for our children without political activism," said a statement issued by Schmidt. "Parents deserve and should be provided a say in what is taught to their children in schools." Loychik tweeted, "Curriculum about gender identity and sexuality has no place in K-3 classrooms, period."
Parents could file complaints alleging violation, and school boards would hold hearings. Penalties would include suspension of teachers and loss of state funds for districts.
As reporters attempted to question Schmidt about the bill on Tuesday, the lawmaker was caught on video fleeing from them. She told the reporters, "I have to go to the Senate, please don't harass me."
When one asked if she could explain the bill, Schmidt said, "No, I can't." Another reporter asked why Schmidt thinks the bill is needed in Ohio, but she ignored the question and kept walking.
\u201cRep. Jean Schmidt, who introduced HB 616, just ran away from the press. @SpectrumNews1OH\u201d
Critics said the legislation is overly broad and would keep children from learning about a diverse society. Christina Collins, a member of the Ohio State Board of Education, said the bill is ambiguous and ignores that school districts already have policies around controversial subject matter. The inclusion of "instructional materials" could mean that schools libraries couldn't carry books with LGBTQ+ characters, she told The Columbus Dispatch.
Democratic Rep. Brigid Kelly added, "We're not giving people access to the tools, the materials, the lessons they need to prepare children for the diverse world that exists."
Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, a teachers' union, told the Dispatch the bill could create problems for students with gay parents or those who have experienced racism. He wondered if a child making a family tree that included gay relatives would constitute a violation.
Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue, a right-wing group, said he didn't think a family tree would be a violation, but he claimed that lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity amount to sexualizing children. "The real question is why do people want to sexualize kids at this age," he told the paper. "Children need time to develop and grow up, and parents should be guiding these discussions."
Cynthia Peoples of Honesty for Ohio Education, which opposes HB 616, countered that by saying, "We don't believe honest discussion about identity and allowing children to bring their authentic selves into the classroom is sexualizing children. ... Normalizing these conversations is not grooming. That's a gross perversion."
DiMauro added that this and similar bills "are cynical attempts to use race and now sexual orientation and gender identity as wedge issues to cause division and sow conflict and ultimately to score cheap political points. Legislators that are promoting these kinds of agendas ought to be ashamed of themselves."
LGBTQ+ group Equality Ohio released a statement against the bill. "Ohio's Don't Say Gay bill is yet another insidious attempt to chill and censor free speech in the classroom. Lawmakers are effectively trying to erase LGBTQ+ people and skew history in their favor," said Executive Director Alana Jochum. "Attacks like these are a product of a small minority of people pushing their agenda to dismantle diversity at all costs -- and in the process putting educators and families in jeopardy for political gain. Equality Ohio vehemently opposes House Bill 616, and we will work tirelessly to stop it from inching its way into our classrooms."