COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As K-12 legislation targeting LBGTQ+ students moves through the Ohio Statehouse, the largest lobbying group for Ohio’s public school boards cannot advocate for or against it.

The Ohio School Boards Association, representing more than 700 school boards across the state, can only lobby on issues explicitly outlined in its legislative platform. While its platform includes supporting policy that promotes student success “no matter their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background,” it does not include advocating for other groups – including the disabled community, LGBTQ+ community and religious minorities.

With proposed state legislation targeting transgender girls on sports teams and banning gender-affirming care for minors, it’s become apparent to some school boards that the OSBA’s platform needs to change.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Columbus City School Board of Education unanimously voted to send a platform amendment to the OSBA declaring the association’s intent to advocate for any and all protected classes. The board joins the Gahanna-Jefferson school board and others across the state asking the OSBA to advocate for students “no matter their race, ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, religion, military status, ancestry, genetic information” and all other legally protected categories.

“We’d like to see OSBA able to lobby for legislation that protects all of our students, as we do in our own policies,” Columbus City Schools Board Member Eric Brown told NBC4. “We also oppose legislation – and we want our lobbyists to oppose legislation – that is discriminatory.”

Each year, the OSBA seeks amendments to its legislative platform ahead of the annual delegate assembly. Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services at OSBA, said in an email that its Legislative Platform Committee reviews all amendments.

The committee, made up of 33 school board members appointed by the OSBA’s five regional executive committees, decides which proposed amendments to advance to the full delegate assembly for consideration in November. Each school board can send one member as its delegate.

“The process for revising the platform is member driven,” Hogue said. “Each step is designed to engage OSBA’s membership.”

In 2021, the OSBA delegate assembly reviewed an amendment to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the legislative platform, but it failed to surpass the necessary threshold of 75% of votes. Opposition is something Brown and other board members are prepared for – but they still hope for otherwise.

“There’s nothing that should be controversial – at least not in our view,” Brown said.

Brown, President Jennifer Adair and other Columbus board members have testified on legislation in the statehouse impacting K-12 education. Brown noted the power in individual testimony – especially by citizens – but said the OSBA’s lobbying efforts can be impactful, as it speaks as the unified voice of hundreds of public school boards. 

“But if there’s an issue that divides school districts, then it’s unlikely that they’re going to be able to lobby effectively,” Brown said.

Brown said he’s spoken with board members across Ohio who intend to submit the amendment to the OSBA. The Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Board of Education intends to send such a resolution to the OSBA, according to March 16 meeting materials.

Gahanna-Jefferson School Board President Beryl Brown Piccolantonio said, like Columbus City Schools, Gahanna-Jefferson wants to see its own policies represented in the OSBA platform. After watching the 2021 amendment fail, she said it became more important to her that OSBA expand its advocacy to protect more marginalized communities.

“This is a group of people who are public servants, who serve their school districts, and it is our job to protect every single student,” Piccolantonio said.

School boards have until May 31 to submit legislative platform amendments to the OSBA. The Legislative Platform Committee meets in August.