Aaron West

by Aaron West

At the beginning of each school year, I teach my students how to annotate. I want them to pay close attention to what they read, and I encourage them to ask questions about it. Today, I had to practice what I teach. I grabbed a highlighter and every teacher’s friend (a felt-tipped pen) all because of one proposed bill: Ohio HB 616.

If you aren’t familiar, this bill copies and pastes direct lines from both Florida’s recently-passed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and a litany of other bills passed by certain legislatures attacking Critical Race Theory (which doesn’t exist in K-12 classrooms), “divisive” concepts, and anything that might make anyone feel “guilty.” 

I have read all 18 pages of this bill and placed here for you two particular ones next to an open copy of my district’s Inclusion guide. I want to show you, firsthand, just how antithetical this is to the field of education. Culturally-responsive education that acknowledges students’ identities is best practice—and we will be at risk of losing our licenses and funding for it should this bill—or any similar form of it—pass. We will be targeted and discharged for doing what is actually right by the professional standards in our field.

We will be targeted and discharged for doing what is actually right by the professional standards in our field.

In this bill, you’ll find vague language that isn’t defined; the enabling of any citizen to personally report teachers, administrators, and superintendents for discipline; the threat of punishment for including diversity/equity/inclusion training for staff or students; and consequences for using any curriculum (including my own classroom library) that includes any “divisive” or “racist” (here meaning “non-white”) perspectives or concepts.

Most personal to me, this bill needlessly includes language whose intention is to further alienate and marginalize LGBTQ+ youth. For the first twenty-six years of my life, I was afraid to admit that I was gay. Had my experience in school (and elsewhere) been different, more representative, that may have been different. I may have been healthier and felt like there was a place for me, my identity—as I was.

I don’t know if this bill will make it through a committee or whether it will ultimately be passed, but here’s what I do know.

• 19% of LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-18 reported attempting suicide at least once in 2021 (The Trevor Project)

• Some form of this bill, and more of the like, will continue to crop up—in Ohio and elsewhere across the U.S.

• This type of legislation, and really, these mentalities, must be met head-on and forcefully resisted and debunked.

• We must continue to vote en masse. In every election—locally and otherwise. Vote for people who will not make a culture war of the most vulnerable lived experiences. Vote for your teachers, your medical professionals, your neighbors who are Black or gay or some other “divisive” subset. Inclusion at the elected level is an antidote to the misguided assumption that this is desirable or even acceptable to most.

• It’s important to remember that one of the noblest goals of quality public education is to make space for all; it is about more seats at the proverbial table. This bill seeks to send a chilling reminder that—still, in 2022—so many must raise their voices as though to ask permission to simply exist or belong.

If you live in Ohio, you can make your voice heard on this bill by contacting the following:

House Speaker Robert Cupp (R): (614) 466-9624

Caucus Minority Leader Allison Russo (D): (614) 466-8012

Other Ohio House Representatives

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) Co-introduced HB 616 with Rep. Mike Loychik

Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta) Co-introduced HB 616 with Rep. Jean Schmidt

Aaron West lives in the Madisonville neighborhood of Cincinnati and teaches English Language Arts in Mason, Ohio. He is passionate about sharing stories, helping students cultivate their voices through writing, and learning from often-overlooked experiences.

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