Ohio Education

Columbus, Ohio — A new school year is underway, as students are about to change parks and outdoor courts for classrooms and libraries (hopefully). But kids and their parents are not the only ones who are getting ready for a new school year. Others have been busy with it as well.

Namely, Ohio Statehouse lawmakers have been studying the state’s education system, trying to find a way to improve it, both for students and teachers alike. As a result, they have introduced dozens of new bills to Ohio legislation. They’re trying to make several changes. For instance, one would make it obligatory for children to learn fetal development with a view to getting them to oppose abortion. They have also proposed reducing the number of standardized tests they would need to take.

Here are ten of the most influential bills the lawmakers have proposed this year.

Tax Deduction for Teachers

According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, educators from the state of Ohio currently have to spend $444 of their personal money on a yearly basis to buy school supplies. A new bill, named Senate Bill 26, would approve teachers’ deducting $250 from their tax payments for supplying their classrooms.

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Stephanie Kunze, a Columbus-area Republican, said that the bill would extend to state taxes. She added the bill was there to help the teachers who did a lot outside the classroom, and they wished to provide some financial relief. The bill in question passed the Senate back in May and is still waiting for consideration in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Vaccination Exemptions

House Bill 132 represents a bill which requires schools to inform parents they can choose that their children don’t undergo vaccination. The state immunization law accepts exemptions on medical grounds, as well as religious and other “reasons of conscience.”

The sponsor of the bill, Mahoning Valley Republican, Don Manning, said that the bill isn’t anti-vax itself, it’s just there to provide parents with a better education. Especially, Manning added, those children who are allergic to vaccines.

However, this doesn’t go in line with public health officials, who claim that allergic reactions are too rare for this bill to be needed. The bill, in their opinion, would just result in more parents deciding against immunization of their children. This would have a follow-up effect of people falling down with measles and other diseases vaccines had virtually eradicated.

Seemingly, the House leadership has put this bill on the back burner, with the bill receiving only one committee hearing in April.

Fetal Development Education

The debate on abortion is becoming more and more ever-present these days. It crept its way also in the educational system. A Dayton-area Republican, Naraj Antani sponsors House Bill 90. The bill would provide charter schools and school districts with the right to choose whether they want to instruct “the humanity of the unborn child.”

This would potentially reflect both anatomical and physiological milestones at different stages of fetal development. One such milestone would be when a fetus starts growing nails and starts feeling pain.

Antani believes that, with proper education, more people would agree with pro-life policies. The bill also requires the information not to come from abortion providers. As expected, there is opposition to this bill, as critics believe it would result in children receiving inaccurate medical information.

Requiring Schools to Name a Valedictorian

From now on, all schools will have to have a valedictorian. This comes as a result of William Mason High School, located in the Cincinnati area, deciding not to name valedictorians or salutatorians any longer. One of the best-performing schools in the state, the high school found giving students these titles has led to unhealthy competition and mental health issues. They have decided to switch these titles with issuing cum laude recognitions to overachieving students.

However, not everyone agreed with this decision. One of them was Antani, who pushed House Bill 281, which made it obligatory for schools to name someone a valedictorian and salutatorian. Antani said that these titles were a sign of success, and he found both success and competition to be good for children.

Critics of the bill claimed Antani interfered in a local matter. Those who oppose the bill said that the subject of valediction was debated for a year among parents, students, and teachers.

Enforcing the ‘Eliana Alert’

Last year, the OGA passed a law which made it obligatory for schools to notify parents or guardians within two hours if their children are absentees that day. Senator Sandra Williams is pushing Senate Bill 157, which would shorten this period to 60 minutes.

Williams, a Democrat from Cleveland, said that she received many reports of schools not carrying out the Eliana Alert, which was the reason why her proposed bill would also sanction schools who don’t oblige.

The Eliana Alert carries the name of Eliana DeFreeze. In 2017, the 14-year-old girl from Cleveland who disappeared on her way to school at E Prep and Village Pre Woodland Hills Campus. Parents claimed they had no idea she didn’t show up in school because nobody informed them.

As a reminder, young DeFreeze was a victim of a gruesome crime. Christopher Whitaker is serving in jail for raping and torturing the girl, after which he murdered her and left her in an abandoned house in Cleveland neighborhood.

Testing Reduction Act

House Bill 239, if passed, would remove four end-of-course exams in high school. The bill is against their being a final test on American history, English language arts, geometry, and American government. The bill has received a bipartisan sponsorship.

Representative Gayle Manning, a Republican from North Ridgeville, said that there was an over-reliance on testing. Manning spent 37 years of his career as an educator. His view on the matter is that students spend a lot of time in schools preparing for tests. He believes that, if they lowered the number of exams, they would help alleviate the stress of both teachers and students.

School Bus Safety Act

Senator Theresa Gavarone out of Bowling Green (Rep.) sponsored Senate Bill 134 which would introduce more expensive penalties for drivers who pass a stopped school bus. According to Gavarone, the bill is the result of several accidents that occurred thanks to drivers not stopping behind a bus which was having children go in and out.

One of the incidents that prompted the bill happened in Willowick in May, when a car hit two children leaving the bus. The driver collided with the kids because she didn’t stop and wait. The children went to the hospital but, thankfully, didn’t suffer from serious injuries. The driver drove away at first, only to turn herself in later on.

Health Education Standards

Democratic Representatives Tavia Galonski and Beth Liston sponsor House Bill 164, which would allow the Ohio State Board of Education to sanction health education standards. Galonski, out of Akron, said that Ohio’s education policy didn’t have health standards, something which was misrepresented by the state’s Department of Education.

While there are requirements that children receive education on alcohol, nutrition, tobacco, drugs, and venereal diseases, the state law explicitly prohibits health education standards.

Galonski claimed the prohibition was tied to sex education, which has traditionally been a controversial topic in Ohio. She added that the standards would rely on the information given out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the bill hasn’t received a Republican co-sponsor, so it’s hard to see it going into effect.

Looking at Air Conditioning, Security, and Accessibility in Schools

Antani has also worked on improving school facilities. In his view, the way the state currently funds facilities “is broken.” He believes that the proposed bill would only be a beginning, and he hopes it would spark a conversation on all school facilities.

Antani brought in a measure which would let members of the public learn which schools have air conditioning (and which lack it). Additionally, the public would be able to find out how certain buildings are addressing accessibility and safety in order to be in agreeance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

House Bill 22 would require from state officials to study school facilities and come up with a report on air conditioning, accessibility, and other amenities within six months. However, Antani conceded that his idea hasn’t yet received enough support. Legislators don’t seem to be very interested in it, with there being only one committee hearing back in February.

Religious Expression in Public Schools

The proposed bill on religious expression, House Bill 164, intends to codify the First Amendment into state law. With the bill, students would have the right to wear clothing with religious symbols. More importantly, they could express their religious beliefs in what they do for the class, including homework assignments, artwork, and classroom activities. Teachers would still utilize academic standards to grade children’s work. They would have the same rights of accessing school facilities as secular groups do.

Representative Tim Ginter, a Salem Republican and minister, sponsors this bill. It is currently in the stage of awaiting a floor vote, as it has passed a House committee. Ohio’s ACLU has some reservations about the bill.

For instance, it would remove restrictions on religious liberties, which the ACLU finds as a positive aspect of it. But they disagree with it being imported in legislation, as it would make it inflexible to change. It would make religious speech protected more than secular speech, which could result in undermining education. For example, students could respond to a biology assignment by saying that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, which is the belief of some people. However, teachers wouldn’t be able to penalize a factually wrong answer just because the student based it on their beliefs.

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