Editorial: Has Ohio really sunk to muzzling those who urge honest conversations about race in our schools?


A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. The casual snuffing out of Floyd’s life, abetted by other officers, was captured on video and electrified the nation. It spawned not just protests but also widespread demands for change from shocked Americans — changes not just in police practices but also in how we as a nation address issues of bias and systemic racism.

It was as if a light bulb had gone off in our collective consciousness. Issues ignored too long were suddenly on the table, and some pertained to education — improving equity and inclusion in our schools and creating a safe pace for conversations about race.

One consequence was the three-page “Resolution to Condemn Racism and to Advance Equity and Opportunity for Black Students, Indigenous Students and Students of Color” adopted on July 14, 2020, about seven weeks after Floyd’s killing, by the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus.

The resolution, as amended during the meeting, condemned “in the strongest possible terms, white supremacy culture, hate speech, hate crimes and violence in the service of hatred” and said the board itself would work to “engage our members in open and courageous conversations on racism and inequity” while offering training “to identify our own biases.” The resolution directed the Ohio Department of Education to examine curriculum and standards to see if any changes were needed to “eliminate bias” and ensure accuracy, and to encourage and support school districts, parents and communities in examining their own practices.

During discussion, Board President Linda Kohler, who had proposed the resolution, shared this with the board:

“I think about my little granddaughter Clare, ” Kohler said, as recorded in the minutes. “She seems to have every advantage. She’ll attend a great school, she has a stable family and a huge support system and generations of relatives who trust and value the education system. I want what Clare has for every single student in Ohio. Maybe we can’t give every child a stable family, but we can give them a great school, a support system and people in his or her life who trust and value the education system. That’s how and when we’ll know if we have achieved equity. When each child in Ohio has an equal opportunity to find happiness and success.”

The resolution was adopted 12-5 with one abstention.

A little more than a year later, the state board of education — long considered a bureaucratic backwater, with its mix of elected members and those appointed by the governor — has suddenly become a battleground in the culture wars.

Prompted in part by a Sept. 14, 2021 opinion from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost questioning some of the language in the 2020 anti-racism and equity resolution and warning that implicit bias training, as quoted in the board minutes, “often imputes collective guilt, moral deficiency or racial bias to entire swaths of people,” the board on Oct. 13 repealed the 2020 resolution by a 10-7 vote.

In its place, the state education board adopted a resolution “to promote academic excellence without prejudice or respect to race, ethnicity or creed” — thereby making itself a backwater again.

Even worse, Kohler and board member Eric Poklar, who’d both voted for the 2020 equity resolution, and against its rescission, resigned from the board, with Kohler saying she was asked to do so by Gov. Mike DeWine (Poklar didn’t say why he left). Almost immediately, DeWine appointed two replacements – persons known to be close to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

Why does all this matter?

It’s a microcosm of the national conversation about race and how it’s playing itself out in real life. And, at ground level in Ohio, it’s a stark and troubling demonstration that, at least in this state right now, reality doesn’t count, and reform will be punished.

It signals that heartfelt, honest and well-intentioned efforts to achieve more equitable educational outcomes in Ohio will be swatted down and summarily disposed of.

Intolerance wears many faces — so it’s a reminder, too, that those seeking to challenge the closed-mindedness and reflexive partisanship of some who should know better, including DeWine and Yost, will pay the price, sinking Ohio’s reputation along with it. Again.

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 31

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