Ohio House holds first hearing for “Parents’ Bill of Rights”; would force teachers to out LGBTQ+ students

The bill would require parental notification on a wide range of vaguely defined circumstances, which could be used to target LGBTQ+ students.

A first hearing for HB 8 – dubbed “The Parents’ Bill of Rights” – was held on March 7 in the Primary and Secondary Education committee of the Ohio House of Representatives. 

If passed, the bill would require parental notification on a wide range of vaguely defined circumstances, which could be used to target LGBTQ+ students.

“The policy shall require a school district to…notify a student’s parent of any change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”

-HB 8

Additionally, the bill would allow parents to review instructional material that includes “sexually explicit content” and for students to be provided alternative instruction that does not include this material. 

The bill at no point defines what constitutes “sexually explicit,” leaving open the possibility of that category including educational content that includes diverse representations of students, couples, parents and families

The bill is cosponsored by Reps. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) and Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton). 

Swearingen testified that the purpose of HB 8 was to codify what he described as a Supreme Court-affirmed right of parents to raise their children. 

“This is a common sense bill,” Swearingen said. 

Primary sponsors D.J. Swearingen (left) and Sara Carruthers testify on HB 8.

In her remarks, Carruthers inexplicably encouraged the committee to read the section of the Ohio Revised Code on “Sexual Offenses,” despite that being unrelated language to HB 8. She said she was dared to read the code out aloud, but wasn’t able to accept the challenge. 

“There were a few words I was uncomfortable reading out loud in front of this committee,” Carruthers said. “This is not something I’m all that familiar with.”

The Buckeye Flame reached out to Rep. Carruthers to get further clarification on the relevance of this section of the Ohio Revised Code. This article will be updated if a response is received.

Republican support

Representatives on the Primary and Secondary Education committee posed several questions to the primary sponsors of the bill. 

Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) praised the bill before questioning the language that permits school personnel from withholding information from parents if there is a belief “that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.” That part of the bill specifies that the belief “shall not be based on a parent’s religious or political beliefs.”

“Would you be willing to strengthen that language?” Click asked.

Click originally referred to the lines in the bill as “verses” before correcting himself and acknowledging that he was using the verbiage of his other job as a Baptist pastor. 

Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania Twp.) seconded Click’s question, suggesting that “moral beliefs” be added to the list. 

“We may want to consider adding that language since individuals could have beliefs that are not motivated by politics or religion when it comes to things like sexual identity or gender identity,” Williams said. 

Swearingen responded to both Click and Williams that he would be open to strengthening the language in that part of the bill. 

Questions from across the aisle

Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-WEsterville), a longtime science teacher, pointedly asked the primary sponsors if they knew the standards put forth by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) on health education. 

Swearingen and Carruthers looked at each other in a lengthy pause before responding that they were not “experts on that matter.”

Lightbody explained that the ODE already has procedures that schools must follow for health education and procedures for parents to withdraw their students from classes. 

“Why is your bill necessary?” Lightbody asked. 

In response, Swearingen said HB 8 did not only apply to health education, but also applies to any curricula with which parents might be uncomfortable.

“It could be Language Arts or English,” Swearingen said. 

Lightbody also pushed back on Carruthers earlier mention of the Ohio Revised Code. 

“That’s about sexual offenses, not about sexual health instruction,” Lightbody said. 

Other Democratic representatives tried to pin down Swearingen and Carruthers to specifically define the phrase “sexually explicit.”

Swearingen refused to provide that definition, saying instead that there was a solution if teachers weren’t sure if their material was objectionable.

“Just contact the parents and talk to them about what their comfort level is,” Swearingen said. 

Pushback to required disclosures

Last year, after the same bill was introduced, LGBTQ+ advocates expressed concern that the bill’s language could force teachers and staff to out LGBTQ+ students who confide in them to their parents, disclosing requests to use names or pronouns different from those on record with the school.

In a hearing last year regarding required disclosures, concern was expressed about how this would violate the codes of ethics and professional practice of many school staff. 

“Such disclosure would disrupt therapeutic rapport and possibly jeopardize clients’ safety,” said Stephanie Ash of the Ohio Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. “Such breaches in confidentiality will also interrupt successful clinical processes which rely heavily on trust and rapport and will dissuade youth from seeking essential mental health services.”🔥

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