Ohio lawmakers push free speech in K-12 schools

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(The Center Square) – A plan Ohio lawmakers say would guarantee free speech for students and staff at the state’s public K-12 schools is now in the hands of the Senate.

Specifically, the legislation requires school districts, community schools and STEM schools to have a policy against using statements of commitment to or soliciting or requiring specified individuals to affirmatively ascribe to specific beliefs, affiliations, ideals or principles concerning political movements or ideology.

According to bill sponsor Adam Holmes, R-Nashport, students would feel comfortable with their own thoughts or form their own opinions.

“Our fundamental values of freedom of speech and self-determination should not be left at the doorways of Ohio classrooms,” Holmes said. “I’m grateful for the passage of this critical legislation and look forward to seeing it continue to progress in the Ohio Senate.”

It passed the House on a Republican 64-30 vote and now awaits a committee assignment in the Senate.

The Ohio Education Association says the bill would be a distraction, cause confusion for teachers, parents and students and damage state schools.

“A state-mandated political censorship maze across Ohio’s school districts and charter schools is in no one’s interest, least of all students,” Mark Hill, with OEA, told lawmakers. “The bill threatens to replace coherent student instruction standards with incoherent local experimentation in politically motivated censorship. Such a law would harm Ohio’s public schools.”

Hill also said the legislation would create a school environment based on intimidation, fear, harassment and anxiety.

Republican lawmakers have been pushing for similar measures at the state’s colleges and universities for the past two years.

In July, Gov. Mike DeWine signed a state budget that included $24 million to establish intellectual diversity centers in five state universities.

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