House GOP introduces Ohio’s version of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

COLUMBUS, Ohio — House Republicans introduced Ohio’s version of Florida’s controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill on Monday, and the Statehouse was in uproar Tuesday morning.

After the exclusive News 5 story on HB 327’s sponsor’s comments on the Holocaust went international, lawmakers are trying a new way to regulate what is being taught in schools.

RELATED: Comments about the Holocaust from representative sponsoring ‘divisive concepts’ bill raise concerns

Much like House Bill 327, House Bill 616 would ban the teaching of any divisive or inherently racist concept — but it goes a step further. This bill would prohibit the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity.

No school district, community school, STEM school, nonpublic school that enrolls students who are participating in a state scholarship program, or any employee or other third party representing a school district or school can teach any “divisive or inherently racist concepts.” That includes all of the critical race theory, intersectional theory, the 1619 project, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes and “inherited racial guilt.” The next section of the bill touches on sexuality and gender identity.

Although she refused to talk to other reporters Tuesday, sponsor of the HB 616, Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Cincinnati, did speak briefly with News 5’s Morgan Trau.

Schmidt said she didn’t want to do an on-camera interview because she was flustered from earlier in the day.

This bill has been in the works for a long time, the sponsor said. Although it has been worked on, there are no other cosponsors on it besides her other primary sponsor, Rep. Mike Loychik, a Republican from Trumbull County, the legislator confirmed.

“The classroom is a place that seeks answers for our children without political activism,” Schmidt said in a press release Tuesday. “Parents deserve and should be provided a say in what is taught to their children in schools. The intent of this bill is to provide them with the tools to be able to see what their child is being taught.”

In comparison, House Bill 327, which is very similar but doesn’t explicitly mention LGBTQ+, has 36 sponsors total. A Statehouse staffer said it is possible that Schmidt and Loychik didn’t send out a cosponsor request, because they wanted to get it introduced before the general assembly takes a month-long break. Some Republicans alluded that it was sent out.

When approached in the hallways, numerous Republicans avoided talking about the bill, with some rolling eyes.

Loychik did not respond to an interview request but did tweet out: “Curriculum about gender identity and sexuality has no place in k-3 classrooms, period. That’s why I just introduced a bill to ban curriculum about sexuality and gender identity until 3rd grade in Ohio.”

“Children deserve a quality education that is fair, unbiased and age appropriate,” Loychik said in a press release Tuesday afternoon. “This legislation promotes free and fair discussion.”

This bill outright bans the topic for up to third grade, but it is unclear what happens after that.

For grades four through twelve, the bill states that teachers can’t provide any curriculum on sexual orientation or gender identity in any manner that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for students in accordance with state standards.

Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Democrat from Lakewood, is concerned the same lawmakers behind HB 616 are also the ones who would set state standards for what would be “appropriate” and when.

“I don’t know if this is some sort of an attempt to put the entire LGBTQ population back in a closet,” she said. “There’s no closet big enough to put us all in, and frankly, that’s not where we belong.”

She is the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the general assembly, and she is worried about what this could mean for kids who grew up in that community, like her.

“For me and for anyone who belongs to the community, for families with children, whether their family has two moms or two dads, for children to be able to go to school and talk about their family – is not a divisive concept,” she added. “It’s to pull people apart and to really destroy, as far as I’m concerned, public education.”

So this revised version of the Divisive Concepts bill now also includes not talking about gender, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes.

The state also can’t offer training or professional development to employees that promote or endorse “divisive or inherently racist concepts.” Educators can’t receive credit required for license renewal for any seminar or other program that teaches “divisive or inherently racist concepts.”

The state board would establish a procedure where an individual can file a complaint against a teacher, school administrator or school district superintendent alleging a “violation” against this bill. If the superintendent of public instruction finds that the teacher, school administrator or school district superintendent violated this, the Department of Education will take “licensure action” based upon the severity of the offense, including, but not limited to, an official license admonishment ( or removal), license suspension or license revocation.

The state must then withhold funds from the district based upon the severity of the offense and time frame by which the district “complies,” which may include a tiered funding penalty, terms for restoration of those funds in the event of compliance and any other procedures that the department determines are “necessary to enforce the prohibitions.”

Schmidt kept insisting that she is focused on another committee hearing she had coming up, but that she would be open to doing a full interview later on with News 5. She is waiting until HB 616 gets assigned to a committee, she added.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.

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