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Sponsors say Ohio's 'Parents Bill of Rights' focus is on mental health

Springfield News-Sun - 9/26/2022

Sep. 26--Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers said her "Parents Bill of Rights Act" legislation might have a similar name to some of the more restrictive bills around the country, but this bill is not those.

Carruthers, R-Hamilton, and joint bill sponsor Ohio Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, said House Bill 722 would ensure public schools are transparent with parents in how they educate their children, though some say the bill would have a negative impact.

"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. "It's my goal to have schools and parents work hand-in-hand for the student."

This legislation, according to the bill, would require schools to draft a policy promoting parental involvement in their child's education. Additionally, schools would need to notify a parent of a change in their student's services or monitoring related to the student's mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being. School districts would prohibit personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.

Carruthers said the focus on mental health is something she believes other "Parents Bill of Rights" legislation doesn't include.

"There's a gap, there's a huge gap in social and emotional learning, and we got to fix it. We got kids right and left that are depressed," said the chair of the Ohio House'sBehavioral Health and Recovery Supports Committee. "We got to find out what's falling apart."

The bill would also require schools to notify parents before starting instruction about "materials that include sexually explicit content and identify the specific instructional material and sexually explicit subjects." If a parent objects, alternative learning materials must be provided.

Carruthers said this bill isn't banning any age-appropriate content but rather making sure parents are aware of the materials being taught. Sexually explicit content is defined by the code as "any description of or any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image, or similar visual representation depicting sexual conduct."

"This isn't about restrictions but about priorities," she said. "Our priority is equipping students with the knowledge to be successful. That means outlining a curriculum based in reading, writing, arithmetic, and mental health education."

Ohio's students are more behind in math and English language arts than they were before the pandemic, but students' scores have improved from where they were in 2020.

Groups of students who were already behind their peers Black and Hispanic students, students who are economically disadvantaged, disabled students, and English learners have even greater achievement gaps now than they did before the pandemic.

The concern for some is that the bill would follow other Republican-backed legislation that's been proposed or enacted around the country where lawmakers have said they want parents to be more informed in their children's education. Many of those bills are what called "educational gag orders" placing steep restrictions on what can and cannot be taught in public schools which have increased by 250% this year over 2021.

Carruthers said House Bill 722 wouldn't stop any instruction that's age-appropriate and argued it opens up transparency.

"We're seeing a shift away from parental involvement across the country, and this legislation just simply ensures a parent's right to be involved in and informed about what's going on (with their children's education)," she said. "There are going to be parents that are never in there, but at least they have the right."

Ohio's proposed bill strips out the more restrictive aspects of what other states' so-called "Parents Bill of Rights" includes, said Carruthers. The bill wouldn't ban or order any books removed, like they did in Missouri. Carruthers said she would oppose any efforts to ban books.

The concern with Ohio's proposed bill "is just how vague the term 'sexually explicit content' is," Equity Ohio spokesperson Kathryn Poe told the Ohio Capital Journal.

Poe's concern is there are no exceptions for health, biology, or anatomy classes written into the bill, but told the Columbus-based news outlet she believes calling it a parental rights bill is just for show.

"We know who will be called out here -- it's LGBT people," she said.

Carruthers disagreed, adding that it would not negatively impact health, biology or anatomy classes, nor would it have an impact on the LGBTQ community.

"Let kids be kids. Let them explore and do their own thing. They don't need to be burdened with all of our problems yet," she said. "I see our numbers on reading and writing are going down the tubes. We're all getting too focused on the wrong areas. Right now, we need to get those scores back up in the general areas."

The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee, and the General Assembly doesn't return until after the November general election.

Staff writer Eileen McClory contributed to this story.


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