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Report: School censorship laws hurt education profession

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Nadia Ramlagan

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(Ohio News Connection) Education experts are worried censorship laws could have profound long-term impacts on the teaching profession.

Research from the National Education Policy Center showed laws censoring content in the classroom foster a climate of fear and anxiety among educators.

In Ohio this year, parents and teachers sued the Forest Hills School District for banning discussions of critical race theory.

Maddie Fennel, executive director of the Great Lakes Center for Education, said the issue is driving more teachers away from the profession and making it harder to recruit new staff at schools already facing shortages. She believes the laws being passed are vague, meaning teachers can be fired for any reason.

"I know experienced teachers who have excelled at their profession who have been acclaimed for their work, who are leaving the profession," Fennel observed. "Because they can't be the kind of teachers that they need to be."

Many laws include penalties, such professional discipline for educators, ranging from temporary suspension to termination and loss of professional license, which can lead to permanent loss of compensation and benefits.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 45 states have introduced bills to limit instruction about racism and sexism, and about 17 million students attended school in districts grappling with a local group or parent-led campaign to end discussion of critical race theory in classrooms.

Rachel Coyle, spokesperson for the nonpartisan group Honesty for Ohio Education, said Ohio is among the states most aggressively censoring educational materials. She sees the laws as creating hostile learning environments for students and teachers who belong to, or support, targeted groups.

"There was a report that came out that showed in 2022, Ohio had the ninth-most attempts to restrict or ban books nationwide," Coyle recounted. "There were 93 attempts to ban books in Ohio in 2022."

According to the American Library Association, 67 percent of voters oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries. Among parents with children in pre-K through 5th grade, the number is 59 percent.