Intense debate continues on Ohio critical race theory bills

The Republican proposal for new state House and Senate district maps, adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission as working documents, is expected to be ratified this week. FILE
Caption
The Republican proposal for new state House and Senate district maps, adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission as working documents, is expected to be ratified this week. FILE

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

Dozens of people lined up in a packed hearing room in the Ohio Statehouse Wednesday afternoon to lambast two proposed, closely related bills on how educators teach about racism and other “divisive concepts.”

House Bills 322 and 327 were getting their third hearings before the Ohio House State and Local Government Committee. Neither bill specifically uses the term “critical race theory,” but banning the teaching of that concept is how both sides described the bills’ intent.

Critical race theory, or CRT, is the academic concept that racism is not just individual prejudice, but is built into legal and social systems. It has become a hot-button issue nationwide, with drives in numerous state legislatures to ban it. Opponents denounce the bans as an attempt to suppress discussion of legitimate issues.

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Instead, HBs 322 and 327 refer to teaching “divisive concepts,” dealing primarily with race, gender and specific topics in U.S. history such as slavery.

Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, is the primary sponsor of HB 322. Co-sponsors include Reps. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton; Bill Dean, R-Xenia; Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester; Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp.; and Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason.

Reps. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland, and Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Rock Creek, are the primary sponsors of HB 327. They both sever on the State and Local Government Committee.

Cosponsors include Reps. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton; Bill Dean, R-Xenia; Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester; Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp.; Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason; Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria; Jena Powell, R-Arcanum; Nino Vitale, R-Urbana; and Tom Young, R-Washington Twp. Creech and Dean are also committee members.

Proponents and opponents of the bills held rival protests Tuesday morning outside the Ohio Department of Education headquarters in Columbus, drawing a few dozen people.

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Though a half-dozen supporters of the bills signed up to speak at their second hearing in June, only opponents were on Wednesday’s speaker list.

At the committee hearing, Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro said the bills would create an “oppressive and fear-based environment” for teachers.

Contrary to what backers of the bills assert, DiMauro said, Ohio students are not taught to be ashamed of their ancestors.

“Quite the opposite,” he said.

Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, said it’s “highly disputed” by parents that CRT is not currently taught in Ohio schools. He asked if DiMauro believed it should be.

DiMauro said no; but an honest understanding of history includes recognizing inequities in social and legal systems. What he and others teach is already regulated by state standards and local school boards’ decisions on curriculum.

Committee chair Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wayne County, asked DiMauro for examples of balanced teaching in current curriculum.

“There are some things you can’t ‘both sides,’” DiMauro said. Balance doesn’t require saying that fighting Nazi Germany in World War II wasn’t right, but discussing the subject should include mention that the United States had policies then that barred entry to Jewish refugees, he said.

Tim Johnson, policy advocate for Ohio Poverty Law Center, said HB 322 prohibits so many things it would have a “chilling effect” on student participation in public issues. It would prohibit schools from offering credit for public service projects, he said.

Richard Fletcher, associate professor in the department of arts administration, education and policy at Ohio State University – who said his son is a student in Columbus public schools – said the bills undermine acknowledgement of the effects of “settler colonialism” on Ohio today, including the establishment of OSU.

Grendell said HB 327 doesn’t prohibit the teaching of historical facts. Fletcher replied that it would bar teaching the effect of past events on present situations, which Grendell denied.

Rep. Timothy Ginter, R-Salem, asked if Fletcher would agree that schools shouldn’t teach or promote “anything that would purposely be divisive in the sharing of the historical record.”

Fletcher replied that the bills would in fact do what they purport to prevent; that using terms such as “genocide” would be divisive, according to the bills’ description.