Watch a previous NBC4 report on the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” in the video player above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Teachers and advocates spoke against a bill at the Statehouse on Tuesday that they said will force educators to out LGBTQ+ students.
House Bill 8 — the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — would require teachers to notify parents before teaching “sexually explicit content” and of any change in a student’s mental, emotional or physical health. Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) and Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton) reintroduced the bill earlier this year after the legislation failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year.
“The focus is to ensure that parents are empowered to be involved in their child’s education both inside and outside the classroom,” Swearingen said in a statement.
The legislation “promotes parental involvement in the public school system” by allowing parents to review material deemed “sexually explicit” to determine whether their child should be provided alternative coursework. Staff would be prohibited from encouraging students to withhold information from parents about their mental, emotional or physical health.
At the beginning of the year, schools would also be required to notify parents of each health care service offered at the institution and to develop “health care plans” with parents for children in need of care.
Opponents testify at the Statehouse
Thirty-seven opponents submitted testimony to the Primary and Secondary Education Committee’s for the bill’s fourth hearing on the legislation on Tuesday. The bill’s third hearing dedicated to proponents last month saw four supporters submit testimony.
Carruthers argues the legislation would facilitate collaboration between educators and parents to work hand-in-hand for students, furthering a student’s academic success.
“Many parents across Ohio believe that schools should provide notification and transparency on certain materials prior to instruction and surely should keep parents duly notified when it comes to a student’s health records at their school,” Carruthers said in a statement.
However, Jeff Wensing, a Parma math teacher and vice president of the Ohio Education Association, testified on Tuesday that the bill would not build stronger parent-educator cooperation but sow distrust between schools and parents by planting the seeds of suspicion and fostering an “us vs. them” mindset.
“Fostering such conflict is more likely to lead to further targeting of marginalized students or populations in our schools, book bans, and censorship based on ideology, not helping students, or addressing the real issues facing our public schools,” said Wensing.
Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) said she is concerned with the impact HB 8 could have on LGBTQ+ students who are seeking a supportive adult at school when their parent or guardian is not accepting. Savannah Carlstrom Page, the director of behavioral health and clinical services at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, echoed Lightbody and said the bill would further marginalization and fear among LGBTQ+ youth.
“As a social worker, I ask you to join me in standing instead on the side of safe, appropriate, and confidential care for all young people, including our queer and trans youth, in collaboration with, not under the rigid and sometimes harmful control of the adults in their lives,” said Page.
Mallory Golski, the civic engagement and advocacy manager for Kaleidoscope Youth Center, testified on behalf of several LGBTQ+ young people who participate in the center’s programming. One 15-year-old said outing students is putting them in direct danger, given it’s unpredictable how parents are going to react. A 16-year-old said coming out is a very personal process that can look different for everyone.
“Even as someone who is very safe as queer in my home, it took a long time for me to
come out for various reasons and I would very much have hated it if that process had been
interrupted,” Golski said on behalf of the 16-year-old. “It’s a sign of a lot of trust if they come out to someone at school so that is a huge violation of that child’s trust if the government forces someone that the kid has confided in to break that boundary and tell parents.”
Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) noted that youth suicide remains high statewide, Ohio Department of Health data has found. Further, research from The Trevor Project shows that anti-LGBTQ victimization contributes to the higher rates of suicide risk reported by LGBTQ young people, as 41% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
Rhea Debussy, director of external affairs for Equitas Health, also testified she is concerned with the outing of LGBTQ+ students to potentially unsupportive or abusive parents or guardians.
“Because of the alarmingly vague and unnecessarily broad language that is proposed
here, such revisions could lead to the presumably required ‘outing’ of LGBTQ+ and questioning students to nonsupportive and/or abusive parents, which would cause real and direct harm to students across the state,” said Debussy.