On April 16, more than 100 people from across the state gathered in front of the Columbus, Ohio, statehouse to protest House Bill 616, the latest attack on the education system and marginalized communities. Protesters demanded an end to the war on teachers, LGBTQ students as well as on Black students and other students of color.
HB616, sponsored by white Republican legislators Mike Loychik and Jean Schmidt, supposedly aims to stop the “promotion [and] teaching [of] divisive, inherently racist concepts.” As defined in this bill, these “racist concepts” include critical race theory, intersectional theory, the 1619 project, diversity, equity and inclusion, racial guilt, as well as any other concepts the school boards deem racist or divisive. In short, this legislation doesn’t aim to stop racism in the classroom, rather it aims to whitewash the history of racism in this country and further embolden and empower racism in the classroom.
The bill is similar to the recent Florida “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. HB616 completely bars teachers from educating their students on sexual orientation and gender identity up to the 3rd grade, and from the 4th grade to 12th grade bars teachers from “teach[ing], [using], or [providing] any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Teachers that fail to comply with these measures can be stripped of licensing renewal credits, can be brought before the state board of education and could possibly lose their jobs.
At the April 16 protest, one participant stated that HB616 was a “direct attack on the truth,” and that “kids deserve to know what our country was founded as.” Another shared fears that “if home isn’t a safe place, and now school isn’t a safe place, where can [LGBTQ] kids go?”
Other bills would prohibit “divisive concepts and current events instruction
Introduced last May by Republicans, House Bill 327 similarly aims to prohibit the teaching of “divisive concepts” in K-12 schooling, as well as higher education. These “divisive concepts” would be determined by the state, and include topics concerning race, gender and sexuality. The bill would prohibit students from sharing their personal experiences in class, in writing and online. HB327 would withhold 100% of state funding from schools found to be in violation.
Similarly, HB322 would ban the teaching of certain current events and topics regarding race and sex in public schools in grades K-12.
The crowd was full of people from all walks of life. People brought signs that read “The classroom is for everyone,” “Protect All Kids,” “HB616 is state sanctioned bullying” and “All students are safe in my classroom.”
Before marching, PSL Columbus organizer Leif Autzen spoke to the crowd, highlighting the contempt and hatred of the Republicans, and the bankruptcy of the Democrats. He said, “The Democrats are 100% happy for the LGBTQ community to remain the target of conservative culture wars. They offer no solutions for our oppression. Our oppression helps them justify the existence of their voting bloc.” The crowd shouted in support, and more than 100 people marched around the statehouse demanding that we protect LGBTQ kids, Black kids, teachers and others affected. Even when faced with hecklers, the crowd stood strong and united.