HB 164 May Infringe on the Academic Integrity of Our Public Schools

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OFT President Melissa Cropper issued the following statement on HB 164, the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019:

“HB 164 is an unnecessary piece of legislation that has the potential to infringe on the academic integrity of our public schools. OFT opposes this legislation.

As the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines, students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,’ and neither do they shed their constitutional right to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. The laudable parts of HB 164, confirming a student’s freedom of conscience, are redundant to the rights enshrined in our constitution and upheld by our federal courts. 

The troubling part of the legislation says school districts ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.’ Supporters and critics of the legislation disagree on what this language will mean in our classrooms, and whether it would, for example, prevent a science teacher from penalizing a student who cited creationism and a 6,000 year old earth in their response. That uncertainty is reason enough to oppose this legislation.”

Holly Kimpon, a Biology and Anatomy teacher at Genoa Area High School and President of Genoa Area Education Association, OFT/AFT Local 4741, added:

“In my Biology and Anatomy classrooms, and in science classrooms around Ohio, students are taught about the scientific method, and the importance of testing a hypothesis, analyzing data, and drawing sound, scientific conclusions. It’s troubling that legislators are pushing through a bill that could open the door to academic affirmation of non-scientific, incorrect information if it is reflective of a student’s religious beliefs. Our students’ First Amendment right to free expression of their religious beliefs is already protected. HB 164 is unnecessary, and can lead to confusion in our schools.”

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The Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) is comprised of more than 50 local unions representing 20,000 members who are active and retired public school teachers, charter school teachers, school support staff, higher education faculty and staff, and public employees. OFTs work to advance quality education and a voice in the workplace for Ohio’s education professionals. OFT is affiliated with the 1.7 member American Federation of Teachers.