Ohio Legislators Looking to Amend House Bill 8: “Parents Bill of Rights”

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In June, the Ohio House of State of Representatives passed an amendment, 65 in favor to 29 opposed, split along party lines. The amendment of House Bill 8 is also known as the “Parents Bill of Rights”. This was introduced to the Ohio State Senate on September 12 and has been referred to the Education Committee. 

House Representatives Sarah Carruthers (R-Hamilton) and D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) introduced the bill, which supporters are hoping to create greater transparency between the education system and parents.

As written in House Bill 8, this would “require public schools to adopt a policy on parental notification on student health and well-being and instructional materials with sexuality content.”

The original proposal was worded as “sexually explicit content” and was changed to “sexuality content” shortly before being voted on. Within this bill, sexuality content, “means any oral or written instruction, presentation, image, or description of sexual concepts or gender ideology.” This does not apply to the state required education regarding venereal disease education, child sexual abuse and sexual prevention program that is already being provided according to the Ohio Revised Code section 3313.60 (A)(5). 

Schools already send home notification before the child sexual abuse program is presented to students, with the option to opt out of the content. The bill does not state that certain subjects cannot be taught, only that teachers must notify parents ahead of time with an option to opt their children out of these lessons. 

Schools also notify parents in the event of injury and illness. Parents are often notified if their student is showing a pattern of bullying or are being bullied. Educators and school counselors are mandated reporters, meaning they are legally obligated to report to parents and law officials when a student poses a threat to harm themselves or someone else. 

Supporters of this bill insist that is not an anti-gay bill and are simply requesting to be kept in the know about the content being taught at school and made aware of students who are requesting to be identified as a different gender. 

As reported by Fox 8, Rep. Sara Carruthers has stated, “The Parents’ Bill of Rights is about informing parents that, yes, you get to know more about your child’s learning, and we are not keeping you out.  Many parents right now feel unwelcomed and disenfranchised and that is what the bill is targeting.”

Potential risks and concerns

Concerns are this amendment causes a greater breach in confidentiality between students and school staff. Teachers and school counselors alike are often used as a listening ear or resource for students trying to process issues they may not feel comfortable or safe discussing with parents.

Despite supporters’ best efforts to say this does not “force outing,” LGBTQ+ advocates don’t see a way around that.

Jourdyn McQueary, Executive Director of Equality Toledo said, “I think the way it reads now does include forced outing. Part of the language is more generalized, yes, but they are being required to report a student making a request to identify as a different gender, with a definition of biological sex included.”

According to Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services, LGBTQ+ students account for 9% of the high school population.  LGBTQ+ youth suicide attempts and ideation are well above their heterosexual peers, with 45% expressing suicidal ideation and 35% reporting suicide attempts.  

But if this bill ends up on the governor’s desk and signed, schools will only be able to maintain confidentiality if they believe contacting parents or guardians will put the child at risk of abuse or neglect. The amendment specifically states this cannot be based on the parent’s or guardian’s political or religious affiliation, but no other criteria to demonstrate how educators will determine whether or not they will endanger the child by doing so.