Educators: Ohio bills seeking to ban teachings about racism are breach of local control

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Jun. 10—Two Ohio House bills that would outlaw teaching certain concepts around race represent an unprecedented infringement on schools' rights to make local curriculum decisions, area educators said.

Supporters of the legislation have said the concepts the bills seek to ban are "dangerous and flat-out wrong."

Ohio House Bill 322 — entitled "Regards the teaching of certain current events, race and sex" — and House Bill 327 — entitled "Prohibit teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts" — were both introduced two weeks ago.

Several area Republican representatives who are sponsoring one or both bills did not return requests for comment. Those legislators are state Reps. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp.; Tom Young, R-Washington Twp.; Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria; Bill Dean, R-Xenia; Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason; and Jena Powell, R-Arcanum.

The bills would take away some of the local authority that traditionally public schools have had in Ohio, said Shannon Cox, superintendent of the Montgomery County Educational Service Center. She does not know of any area district or school administrator that supports these bills because they would infringe on local control.

"Lawmakers are pretty adamant that we need to have a more inclusive environment and I think the language that they're putting into this bill is exactly the language that is divisive ... Letting us handle that in our school districts, that's what will allow us to provide an inclusive environment," she said.

State Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, said in a statement announcing House Bill 322 that his measure would prevent state agencies and school districts from teaching that one race or gender is superior to another or that a person can be inherently racist or sexist.

This comes as lawmakers in 16 states have introduced or passed legislation this year limiting the teaching in public schools of what the bill writers call critical race theory, according to Inside Higher Ed.

"Critical race theory is a dangerous and flat-out wrong theory. It is designed to look at everything from a 'race first' lens, which is the very definition of racism," Jones said. "CRT claiming to fight racism is laughable. Students should not be asked to 'examine their whiteness' or 'check their privilege.'"

Cox said she does not know of any local school district teaching critical race theory.

Critical race theory is an academic model that experts, supporters and opponents define differently. Key tenets of the theory include acknowledging that race is not biologically real but socially significant and that racism is embedded in institutions like the American legal system.

Marlese Durr, a professor of sociology at Wright State University, said critical race theory is a framework for studying America that students can agree or disagree with, but it does not state that whiteness is a bad thing and it should not be censored.

"Critical race theory brings up the unpleasantness these lawmakers are seeking to hide," she said. "Legislating revisionist beliefs or building 'legislative cancel culture' policies denies discussing unpleasant sociohistorical facts."

Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said she was working with a group of local people to lobby against the bills.

"In urban schools, there are always issues that come up that have to be openly addressed," Lolli said. "And when you have limits on how you teach and what you teach to the point that it controls topics that you're actually teaching, then I think that urban schools, especially, will feel as if they are being suppressed."

HB 327 applies to school districts and state agencies and specifies that it includes state colleges. It would ban teaching such concepts as "the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist" and "an individual, by virtue of the individual's nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same nationality, color, ethnicity, race or sex."

HB 322 applies to schools and state agencies but does not specify if that would include colleges. It would outlaw teaching such concepts as "fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race or sex" and "the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States." The latter concept is a reference to the New York Times Magazine's 1619 project which examines the role of slavery in American history.

Spokespeople for Wright State University and Sinclair Community College both declined to comment on the bills. Durr said these bills if passed could negatively impact how concepts around race and gender are taught at Wright State.

F. Erik Brooks, provost at Central State University, a state college and historically Black university in Wilberforce, said universities should have control over what they teach.

"To me, it is an overreach to attempt to strong arm the curriculum of a university," he said. "I don't think any teacher teaches in an accusatory fashion. The fundamental purpose of education is to expose students to information they may not be aware of."

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