Ohio Senate Proposes “Parents’ Bill of Rights” for School Curriculum Content

An Ohio House bill proposing the notification of parents regarding potentially “sexual” content in state schools was introduced to an Ohio Senate committee earlier this month.

Critics have drawn comparisons between this bill and Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was implemented in 2022 and restricts classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity for certain grade levels.

Sponsors of the bill, Republican state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, and Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, presented the bill to the Senate Education Committee.

Swearingen emphasized the importance of parental involvement in children’s lives, stating, “This is a common sense bill that simply acknowledges the fundamental role that parents play in the life of their children. It is statistically undeniable that when parents are involved in their kids’ lives, kids succeed.”

During its progression through the House, the bill faced opposition from various youth advocacy groups, including the Kaleidoscope Youth Center and the Trevor Project, along with school districts and associations such as the ACLU of Ohio, the Ohio Education Association, and the Ohio School Counselor Association.

These groups raised concerns about the bill’s language, which requires schools to notify parents and grants them the power to remove students from classes based on the “sexuality content” being taught. Additionally, amendments made to the bill while in the House were criticized by LGBTQ advocates for potentially rendering topics related to the LGBTQ community “inappropriate for the classroom,” according to Kathryn Poe, a former spokesperson for Equality Ohio, during the House committee process.

Mallory Golski, the civic engagement and advocacy manager at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, argued that by labeling certain content as “sexuality content,” the bill is specifically targeting LGBTQIA+ youth. Golski pointed out that even a story featuring a queer character in an English class could be flagged as “sexuality content.”

However, during a committee hearing before the Senate Education Committee on December 5, Carruthers likened the regulations outlined in the bill to the protocol followed in cases where a child is injured in a park and medical information is required. She posed the question, “Who do they call to find out your child’s medical history or allergic reactions to medications?” Carruthers asserted that schools would not be the first point of contact for such information.

Swearingen emphasized that the bill aims to protect a parent’s ability to oversee their child’s physical and mental health. In order to achieve this, school districts are prohibited from withholding changes in a student’s health from parents, and they are also prohibited from encouraging students to hide these issues from their parents.

However, youth advocacy and education groups have raised concerns that this provision could potentially expose children’s gender identity or sexual orientation, putting them at risk in certain households.

During the committee hearing, the bill underwent revisions through a substitute bill, which aligned it with the “revised federal code,” as stated by Carruthers. She mentioned that the sponsors had been closely collaborating with committee chair state Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, on the substitute bill.

The substitute bill introduces definitions for the terms “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate,” modeled after existing federal definitions. These terms refer to activities or items that are deemed suitable for children of the same age or maturity level, according to state Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula, who presented the substitute bill to the committee.

The substitute bill will undergo further review in the education committee before reaching a vote by the full senate.

In June, the bill passed the House with a vote of 65-29.

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