As you likely read on any number of local or national news outlets, House Bill 68 did not go quietly into the night for the close of 2023. With the Ohio Senate quickly passing the measure through committee and out of the chamber in the first half of December, it headed to Gov. Mike DeWine for a signature…or veto. The bill bans gender affirming care and participation of transgender girls in sports. OSPA was engaged as an association as part of a coalition of health care providers to oppose the legislation.
Gov. DeWine delayed his action until the last possible day – Dec. 29. Had he taken no action, the bill would have become law. During the 10-day window in which he had to sign, the governor visited children’s hospitals, talked to parents and talked to transgender individuals. In the end he opted to veto the measure and announced plans to quickly institute administrative rules that would ban surgeries for minors experiencing gender dysphoria, collect data, and crack down on any rogue clinics providing substandard care to transgender individuals.
Republicans in the statehouse were not satisfied with the promise of new rules and House members quickly mobilized the weekend before New Year’s to whip votes for a veto override, presently planned for Jan. 10. At the moment, it does appear an override is likely. There is some hope that an alternative route could be taken – pass the standalone HB 6, which covers the transgender girls in sports issue. This bill is out of House committee and could receive a full chamber vote at any time. Advocates have been hitting the phones to try to persuade House members to vote against an override.
As you have read in other updates, OSPA has been working on HB 206, which would expand expulsion authority for students who have made a threat of violence or committed a violent act at school. The bill would allow a school board to adopt a policy granting the superintendent authority to expel a student for 180 school days – the equivalent of a school year – for a violent act or credible threat of violence. It also allows the superintendent to extend that expulsion for up to 90 days at a time in perpetuity should the student fail to meet criteria the superintendent sets. Among the requirements for return to school would be an assessment conducted by a school psychologist, psychologist or psychiatrist to determine if the student is a threat to students or staff. OSPA President-Elect Jennifer Glenn, OSPA Legislative Chair Melissa Bestgen and Executive Director Rachel Chilton attended a meeting with co-sponsor Rep. Monica Robb-Blasdel to discuss our concerns with the measure. Board member Erich Merkle provided substantial input prior to and following the meeting. We discussed the following topics:
- Requested an indemnification provision for school psychologists and others who would be making a call about whether a student is safe to return to school;
- Emphasized that the threat assessments that exist are only reliable at the acute time of the threat, not many months later, and that such assessments are more an art than a science;
- Requested that the existing multidisciplinary teams established by the SAFE Act of four years ago be the party responsible for deciding whether return-to-school criteria are met;
- Pushed the likelihood this bill would disproportionately impact students from minoritized backgrounds and students with disabilities.
The committee adopted a substitute bill that allows the superintendent to still make the final call but requires him or her to consult with a multidisciplinary team when doing so. A later amendment added indemnification language protecting the school psychologist, psychologist or psychiatrist who conducted the assessment from civil action. Ms. Chilton also received outreach from stakeholders at DEW, Disability Rights Ohio and the Ohio Poverty Law Center all seeking to know details of our concerns during the process. The bill did pass out of committee before winter break. We will continue to express concerns as it goes through the Senate.
Department of Education & Workforce
The Department of Education & Workforce got off to a rocky start. Although the budget’s provision to alter the makeup of the state education agency was slated to take effect Oct. 3, several members of the State Board of Education sued the state to block implementation of the change. The move from ODE to DEW includes the removal of most of the duties and powers of the State Board of Education. A judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent implementation of DEW, but it was later lifted while the case continues through the process. Meanwhile, Gov. Mike DeWine appointed a temporary director of the new agency: Jessica Voltolini, the State Board of Education’s chief of staff. Ms. Voltolini has been with the department on and off going back to the mid 2000s. In October, State Board of Education President Paul LaRue issued a notice postponing its meeting; however, most members of the body met anyway. It was not streamed online and was primarily attended by reporters. Board Member and OSPA member Dr. Antoinette Miranda was among those in attendance.
Meanwhile, I was informed about behind the scenes shifts happening at DEW. The original intel from another association suggested the changes would divide up staff currently in the Office for Exceptional Children and move them elsewhere. We and other associations who work with OEC are concerned about the changes and the potential this has to result in reduced services to students. OSPA leadership agreed to send a form letter that another association created to push back on the changes. In October, Ms. Chilton was invited with Disability Rights Ohio and the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities to meet with then interim Director Jessica Voltolini about the changes. I invited Frank Sansosti, coordinator at Kent State, to join. The director explained that only 15 jobs were shifted from OEC to be placed in other areas to ensure they’re “breaking down silos among program offices.” OEC leadership we are accustomed to - JoHannah Ward and Joe Petrarca - will continue in their roles. Those in the meeting pushed her on why this was thought to be a good idea and why the changes were made without communication to associations and parents. The group emphasized that this could diminish the expertise related to IDEA and other federal laws if those higher up do not understand the work and the requirements. Director Voltolini later contacted Ms. Chilton and assured her the changes would have no impact to the administration of our intern program and its related grant money.
Back at the Statehouse, SB 83, the controversial higher ed bill that would have restricted diversity training at public colleges and universities, sat dormant for several weeks as the sponsor, Sen. Jerry Cirino, worked out additional changes. It was back for a hearing the week of Oct. 30 where many positive changes were adopted. OSPA had originally testified on this bill pushing against a provision that would have banned higher education institutions from requiring DEI coursework for any degree. The bill was later amended to allow for exceptions in cases where such classes are required for program accreditation, among other exceptions. This alleviated our primary concern since our programs must include diversity training as part of NASP accreditation. This language was even further softened so that programs seeking an exception no longer have to request such a waiver but can instead merely report that they have mandatory diversity training. Although the bill is still problematic, the latest iteration also removed language barring strikes by public college and university employees. At first these changes did not derive enough support to get the bill out of committee, but removal of the language on strikes did eventually sway Rep. Gayle Manning to switch her vote from a nay to a yea. SB 83 left committee Dec. 6 and could be up for a floor vote early this year.
Also seeing some movement this fall is a new anti-transgender bill: HB 183. This would require all people in a public school or university to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender assigned at birth. OSPA is watching this bill closely but has not yet decided whether to provide testimony. We submitted testimony on HB 8, the “Parents Bill of Rights,” which many worry would require school personnel to out students to their parents. We joined the National Association of Social Workers – Ohio in a press conference in November that more broadly spoke to standards of care and ethics in the face of such legislation.