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29 Oct, 2021 09:34

Ohio school board head who penned controversial race & equity resolution resigns before being ousted by state senators

Ohio school board head who penned controversial race & equity resolution resigns before being ousted by state senators

The head of the Ohio Board of Education has resigned her position just before being voted out by the state Senate. Last year she drafted a resolution that became a flashpoint for a war over how race issues are taught at schools.

Laura Kohler announced her Friday resignation, saying she didn’t have a way to keep her position and serve her full term. Another board member, Eric Poklar, is expected to be removed from his office by state senators in a vote later in the day. Both officials imperiled their positions over their support of a controversial resolution on race and equity in education, which critics said was pushing the so-called critical race theory (CRT) on public schools.

The three-page Resolution 20 was passed by the board weeks after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and advised the state education system to fight against racial inequality in various ways. Among other things, it provided for implicit bias training for Ohio Department of Education employees and contractors. That part was met with a strong pushback due to perceived CRT undertones behind the provision.

The CRT framework states that racism in the US is ingrained in certain institutions and benefits all white people. Those who don’t hold racist views themselves should still be taught to see their privileges and change their behavior accordingly, the reasoning goes. Opponents say this viewpoint is racist itself and accuse CRT proponents of trying to change the public education system to indoctrinate children in accordance with its tenets under the guise of fighting racism and inequality.

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In Ohio, Resolution 20 became a focal point of the fight over CRT-influenced curriculum and, being part of a nationwide culture war, it was as intense as in any other state. The board at one point restricted comments about the policy during public meetings, telling protesters to submit their objections in written form instead. It was sued on First Amendment grounds in response.

The document was also referred to Attorney General Dave Yost, whose opinion was that the board overstepped its authority in demanding implicit bias training for contractors, but could make such a demand for employees.

Under pressure and after some changes in its composition, the board ultimately moved to rescind the resolution. Earlier this month it was replaced with a toned-down version, Resolution 13, which was passed 10-7, with Kohler and Poklar voting no. The outgoing board president said she objected because she didn’t see anything wrong with the original document, which she drafted.

“I think, in its final, Resolution 13 was a good resolution,” Kohler commented to the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau. “But nothing has changed for me in the last year that has caused me to doubt the truth of anything that was included in the original resolution.”

Kohler, who is a Republican, insists that critics of Resolution 20 found in it something that she never intended to be there. She decided to resign at the request of Governor Mike DeWine, who reappointed her as a board member earlier this year. She said forcing a vote at the Senate that she was bound to lose “wasn’t in the board’s best interest”, according to Cleveland.com, the online sister outlet of the print-only Ohio newspaper The Plain Dealer.

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The Ohio State Board of Education has 19 members, eight of whom are appointed by the head of the state, with the rest being elected. The state Senate, which is controlled by the GOP, has the option to take a vote to “advise and consent” an appointment.

Senate President Matt Huffman is a vocal critic of Resolution 20 and indicated that a “no consent” vote was coming on Friday. He said Kohler mishandled the blowback with the ban on verbal comments and argued that too many appointed members of the education body were coming from the Columbus area, undermining its geographic diversity. Kohler comes from the Columbus suburb of New Albany.

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed three appointed board members, who voted to repeal and replace Resolution 20.

Kohler was first appointed to the board by then-Governor John Kasich in 2017 and was elected board president in 2019. Her term would have lasted till 2024. Poklar, the other board member slated to be ousted by senators, would likewise serve till 2024. He declined to comment on the conflict to the media.

Amid the clash over Resolution 20, a bill was introduced at the state House of Representatives, which seeks to eliminate governor-appointed seats in the school board altogether. The bill was not necessarily submitted to eliminate supporters of the policy. It has Democratic supporters, who say the current system gives the governor too much influence over the body.

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