Ohio is making national headlines for its introduction of a bill that mirrors a controversial Florida law restricting how schools talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Supporters call these “Parental Rights in Education” laws while opponents have named them the “Don’t Say Gay” bills.
What would Ohio’s bill do?
House Bill 616 would ban both instruction and materials about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade in all public and most private schools.
Students in grades four and higher could discuss these issues, but “any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity” would be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Teachers who violated these rules could lose their licenses and schools could lose their state funding.
The Republican legislation also restricts teacher discussion and training on other “divisive or inherently racist concepts” such as critical race theory, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes and “any other concept that the state board of education defines as divisive or inherently racist.”
How is HB 616 similar to the Florida law?
The language on sexual orientation and gender identity is strikingly similar.
Florida’s law says “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3.”
In Ohio, HB 616 says schools shall not “teach, use, or provide any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity” in “grades kindergarten through three.”
‘Divisive issues’ in education:Compare Ohio House Bill 616 to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law
How is HB 616 different?
The penalties under the Florida law and the Ohio bill are different. Florida allows parents to sue the teacher and/or school district who violated its law while Ohio would send them to the State Board of Education.
The Florida law also limits how students can receive health services such as counseling and what parents must be told when children use them. That’s not in Ohio’s bill.
On the flip side, HB 616 has language restricting the teaching of other divisive concepts such as race.
Where is Ohio’s bill in the legislative process?
HB 616 was introduced in early April in the Ohio House by state Reps. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, and Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland.
“Children deserve a quality education that is fair, unbiased and age appropriate,” Loychik said in a statement. “This legislation promotes free and fair discussion.”
The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee.
No companion legislation has been introduced in the Ohio Senate.
“The classroom is a place that seeks answers for our children without political activism,” Schmidt said in a statement.
Why is it called the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill?
These bills use terms such as sexual orientation and gender identity, but critics have nicknamed them “Don’t Say Gay” laws.
“It becomes clear very quickly when the specific materials begin to be cited that when they say sexual orientation they mean non-heterosexual orientations,” Equality Ohio Policy Director Maria Bruno said.
That’s why books about princesses marrying princes don’t get flagged as inappropriate for children, but stories about different kinds of families do.
“We know they are trying to avoid having to explicitly say we want to reject LGBTQ identities, but they are doing everything they can to substantively make that happen,” Bruno said.
School librarians across the country recently told The Washington Post they’re fighting against pre-emptive removals of LGBTQ books.
And teachers in Florida who oppose their new law have started circulating memos about only using they/them pronouns because he/she implies a gender identity.
“Our identities are not divisive concepts,” Bruno said. “The implications from bills like this is that merely being a member of the LGBTQ community is, in itself, a perversion.”
Will HB 616 replace the other divisive concept bills?
Ohio lawmakers have already spent dozens of hours debating how educators talk about racism, slavery and inequity during hearings for House Bills 322 and 327.
Both bills would restrict how K-12 schools teach about divisive concepts, but HB 327 goes farther. It would limit how these subjects could be discussed by public colleges and other public entities like municipal governments and libraries.
Anna Staver is a reporter with the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau. It serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
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