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Rep. West, OLBC condemns attack on critical thinking in Ohio schools

Statement comes as HBs 322 and 327 receive first committee hearings
June 15, 2021
Democratic Newsroom

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) today issued the following statements from State Reps. Thomas West (D-Canton), Phil Robinson (D-Solon), and Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) condemning House Bills (HB) 322 and 327, legislation to restrict schools from teaching or advocating certain so-called divisive concepts:

“Teaching our kids about race and racism isn’t divisive; it is critical to ensuring that they understand and value the diversity of our state and our nation,” said Rep. West. “We should be teaching them about how racial equity provides opportunities for all of us to thrive.”

“In fact, this proposed legislation is divisive in and of itself. These bills represent another step backwards for Ohio and yet another distraction from the pressing issues before us. Quite simply, HBs 322 and 327 ignore the reality of our history. Instead of turning a blind eye to it, we should be having honest conversations about race and systemic racism.”

HBs 322 and 327 would limit the ability for teachers and school districts to have honest, age-appropriate discussions and learning opportunities about the past and present history of Ohio and the United States regarding race and racism, gender and sexism, and other related topics the bill sponsors define as “divisive concepts.” 

The Republican-backed proposals would prohibit schools from requiring teachers to use examples from current events or ongoing controversial issues in their classrooms and ensure teachers cannot be required to affirm beliefs about certain concepts like systemic racism and multiple or fluid gender identities.

HB 327 was also amended in committee to include religion as one of the bill’s divisive concepts.

“What should be troubling to everyone is that these bills would have the state define ‘divisive concepts,’ specifically for issues of race, sex, and religion, so that our educators and students are then not permitted to have substantive conversations around these issues. If passed, can educators talk about systemic racism or is this important historic issue considered divisive?” said Rep. Robinson, the ranking member of the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee. 

“Usurping our locally elected school boards and forcing teachers to deny reality doesn’t help our kids learn and grow. If we overlook, willfully ignore, or omit the real history of our state, we are doomed to repeat the worst parts of it. We must instead ensure the next generation has the tools it needs to thrive and build a better future for themselves and their children.”

Idaho last month enacted a similar law to ban the teaching about the reality of racism and other topics, and the Florida State Board of Education last week adopted a similar rule. 

“Once again, these bills have Ohio going in the wrong direction,” said Rep. Galonski, a member of the House State and Local Government Committee. 

“If passed, these bills would censor what is taught in school all because some legislators are too cowardly to actually listen to the truth. Instead, they would rather decry the teaching of facts about our history as fake news. I am disappointed that our fellow legislators are not interested in helping the children of Ohio become critical thinkers.”

Following today’s first hearings, HBs 322 and 327 await further consideration from the House State and Local Government