Republican Lawmakers in Ohio Want Schools to Tell Parents About ‘Sexually Explicit Content’

Two Republicans from the state of Ohio last week introduced legislation that would force school boards to disclose to parents all "sexually explicit content" taught in the classroom.
At parents' request, teachers would have to provide students with alternative classes that do not contain this sexually explicit content.
The legislation - introduced by Republicans Sara Carruthers and D.J. Swearingen - defines Sexually Explicit Content as descriptions or images, drawings, films, images, or "similar visual representations" depicting sexual behavior.
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The sponsors refused to specify what exactly they are trying to do to let parents know what is going on in the classrooms.
The legislation also requires education authorities to notify students of any "change in services or monitoring of students" relating to their mental, emotional or physical health and well-being. Likewise, it prohibits school staff from "directly or indirectly encouraging" a student to withhold information about their parents' mental or emotional health from their parents.
The legislation continues a pattern of Republican legislation at the state and national levels aimed at restricting classroom instruction, particularly pertaining to race relations, American history, gender and sexual identity.
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"I think the real issue here is how vague the term 'sexually explicit content' is," said Kathryn Poe, manager of public policy and digital communications at Equality Ohio, which champions LGBTQ interests.
Poe noted that the bill makes no exceptions for health, biology, or anatomy classes. The real point of the bill, Poe said, is to use the legislation's vague language to suppress talk of gender and sexuality in classrooms under the guise of parental rights.
"We know who's being called out here — they're LGBT people," she said.
The newly introduced law in Ohio is largely a copy of similar laws recently enacted in Virginia and Missouri. NPR reports that Missouri legislation goes so far as to criminalize teachers and librarians who provide students with sexually explicit material, leaving librarians free to take books off shelves to comply. According to the Pennsylvania Capital Star, the Pennsylvania Senate passed similar legislation this summer.
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Organizations representing the LGBTQ community in other states have also protested the legislation, arguing the laws are a means of marginalizing gay and lesbian voices and experiences in classrooms.
According to a report by PEN America, which advocates for free speech in literature, 36 states have introduced 137 bills aimed at restricting teaching about race, gender, US history and sexual identity. Seven got law degrees this year, and another 12 got law degrees last year.
In Ohio, Republicans introduced House Bill 327, which bans educators from teaching certain "divisive concepts" related primarily to race in America past and present. Another, House Bill 616, includes the provisions of the "divisive concept" but expands on the proposal to also ban teaching "sexual orientation or gender identity" until it is "age appropriate" (a point in time not specified by legislation is). Both have not yet passed.
The sponsors of the latest bill declined to specify what types of allegedly sexually explicit behavior or changes in student health surveillance they want parents to know about. Instead, both said in a statement through an adviser that the legislation would bring teachers and parents together to "encourage participation".
The General Assembly is expected to return after the November elections to complete its legislative work before the end of the term.
The Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. If you have any questions, contact editor David DeWitt: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow The Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.
Sara Carruthers
Ohio State Representative

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