‘Parents’ Bill Of Rights’ on School Curriculum Content Proposed in Ohio Senate

Critics likened the bill to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

This is a photo of a dad walking his two sons into school.

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An Ohio House bill to notify parents of any content in state schools that may contain “sexuality” was introduced before an Ohio Senate committee earlier this month.

Critics likened the bill to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was implemented in 2022 and bars classroom discussion for some grade levels on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Republican co-sponsors state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, and Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, brought the bill before the Senate Education Committee.

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

During its run through the House, the bill was opposed by a variety of youth advocacy groups, including the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio and the Trevor Project, along with some school districts, the ACLU of Ohio, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio School Counselor Association.

The groups took issue with House Bill 8’s language, which requires schools to notify parents and allows parents to remove students from classes based on the “sexuality content” of those classes, and amendments made while the bill was still in the House that LGBTQ advocates said made topics related to the LGBTQ community “perhaps inappropriate for the classroom,” according to Equality Ohio’s then-spokesperson Kathryn Poe, during the House committee process.

Mallory Golski, civic engagement and advocacy manager at Kaleidoscope Youth Center said calling the content “sexuality content,” the bill is “targeting LGBTQIA+ youth and even something as simple as a story that they might be reading in English class, if there is a queer character in that story, that can be flagged as sexuality content.”

In the Dec. 5 committee hearing before the Senate Education Committee, Carruthers, however, likened the regulations under the bill to the process that would take place if a child was hurt in the park and an ambulance was called.

“Who do they call to find out your child’s medical history or allergic reactions to medications?” Carruthers posed to the committee. “Somehow, I don’t believe they would call the school to find out this information.”

Swearingen said the bill “protects a parent’s ability to direct their child’s physical and mental health.” To do so, the school districts are “prohibited from keeping changes in the health of the student from their parents, and the school district is also prohibited from encouraging the student to hide these issues from their parents,” he told the committee.

That is part of the problem youth advocacy and education groups have with the bill, saying that opens the door for children to be “outed” for their gender identity or sexual orientation, when such information might put them at risk in certain households.

At the committee hearing, the bill received revisions through a substitute bill, which made changes “per the revised federal code,” according to Carruthers. She said the sponsors had “been working very closely” with committee chair state Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, on the sub bill.

The bill included definitions for the terms “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate,” which were modeled after existing federal definitions. Federal law uses those definitions for “activities or items that are generally accepted as suitable for children of the same chronological age or maturity” or “typical for an age or age group,” according to state Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula, who presented the substitute bill to the committee.

The substitute bill will continue through the hearing process in the education committee before moving on to a vote of the full senate.

The bill passed the House with a vote of 65-29 in June.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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