Students Promoting Equity and Knowledge (S.P.E.A.K.) Coalition says ‘yes’ to truth!

By Meryl Johnson, Ohio Board of Education, District 11

Did you know that during the decade know as the Reconstruction (1867-1877), 2000 African-Americans held public office, from the local level all the way up to the U.S. Senate? Did you know that the brutal Tulsa massacre of 1921 was just one of many, and that race massacres were commonplace and now are blatantly (and purposely) ignored in history books?

There are some legislators and misinformed residents who want to hide the undeniable facts and realities about our nation, deny students their voice and identity, and disempower families, educators and school boards. There are two bills pending in the legislature, House Bill 322 and House Bill 327, that would prohibit educators in K-12 and in higher education from teaching the truth about America’s history under threats of suspensions/revocation of licenses and loss of district/institution state funds. To read these dangerous bills,  visit:

We cannot sit still by and allow our classrooms to be turned into places of censorship and untruths. Contact your legislators and let them know how you feel. You can also contact the Committee Chairperson, Rep. Scott Wiggim at (614) 466-1474 or Contact the Committee Co-Chairperson, Rep. Marilyn John at (614) 466-5802 or Members of the Students Promoting Equity and Knowledge (S.P.E.A.K.) Coalition are fighting back by putting their thoughts in writing:

Dear Editor:

My school prides itself on teaching education in the best way possible. They ensure that the students there understand what is being taught by making sure that the class is interactive and that we have group discussions about the topics being discussed. Because of this way of teaching, the history of historical events like Reconstruction and the Civil War were taught in-depth. I gained the full picture of these events and nothing was censored. If House Bills 322 and 327 are passed, events that deal with slavery, sexism, and racism won’t go into detail about what happened and why. A curriculum could skip over the fact that Reconstruction was a failure and that it failed because people were unwilling to make the changes needed to implement African-American leaders in American society. This is why I’m against these bills. They would impact how students learn and how a curriculum is being taught. In the future, I hope to see that America’s past isn’t censored to paint America as a perfect country. To share my viewpoint I have joined S.P.E.A.K. (Students Promoting Equity and Knowledge), a student-led group bent on educating people to take a stance against discrimination, racism, and censorship.

~ Jeremiah Al-Jeleel, Cleveland School of Science and Medicine

Dear Editor:

My name is Kayla Blake. I’m a high school student from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. I am one of the first students in a newly founded group, the S.P.E.A.K. Coalition (Students Promoting Equity and Knowledge), which fights the regression of racial education in Ohio. There are two bills in the Ohio legislature aimed to limit conversation about race, gender, and current events, HB 322 and 327.

As a black student in America, it is already hard enough to have my identity recognized and my history acknowledged, especially in the classroom, but these two bills would only make everything worse. They would prohibit and punish teachers (possibly removing their licenses) and school districts (possibly removing funding) from addressing America’s unfortunate history regarding the construct of race and talking about current events. Legislators who pushed these bills believe that not discussing these topics altogether would create a less tense environment.

However, in my personal beliefs, it would make them more taboo and would allow more room for hate which would inevitably lead to more division. In addition, not mentioning the struggles of People of Color in America and their history is just another form of indoctrination and censorship. The goal, as I mentioned in a recent radio interview, is to (as the preamble said) create a “more perfect union,” not teach that our current union is flawless. I wish to see a more fair and objective school curriculum that includes the voices of people who look like me in addition to acknowledging the complex history of America and the racism built into the fabric of it.

~Kayla Blake, Cleveland School of Science and Medicine

Dear Editor:

I am writing concerning House Bills 322 and 327. For those who are unaware of House Bills 322 and 327, they were introduced by Rep. Don Jones and Rep. Diane V. Grendell along with Rep. Sarah Arthur. These bills were introduced in hopes of silencing history by defunding schools and withholding teachers’ licenses when teachers talk about race, sexuality, nationality etc. If passed, the bills will not only be abhorrent but will also belittle the little history taught about race and the factors alongside race.

As an African-American woman and student of Ohio education, it disturbs me that people would rather history be silenced than to teach why history shouldn’t repeat itself and how history left behind generational trauma and disadvantages to people of color. Just because you’re too ashamed to talk about your history doesn’t mean you get to silence and dismiss our history. You may say “I’m not racist–I don’t see color,” but that belittles the justice that people of color have been fighting for, for 400+years. Color blindness is a systematic excuse to justify conversations people aren’t ready to have. Our education shouldn’t be blind; the Ohio education system has every race and nationality. History should be versatile because history has its good parts and bad parts. Just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean the conversation shouldn’t be held; it should be held in hopes of bettering our future and preventing history from repeating itself.

~La ‘Ericka Butts, Cleveland School of Science and Medicine

Dear Editor:

House Bills 327 and 322 are being passed across America and now Ohio, and these bills are trying to cover up the truth in History. Right now, as a high school student, I want to be able to learn accurate information without being fed false baloney, or my teachers being penalized for doing their job. The idea that we should exclude the “embarrassing” parts of American history is wrong and upsetting. We should be able to learn the truth, accept that it happened, and do better. It is also important for K-12 students and teachers to talk about racism and sexism, both social and systemic constructs that exist today, and create an environment where kids can grow up to be accepting and understanding people. If House Bills 327 and 322 are passed in Ohio, kids will not know true current and past events, and won’t be able to have the resources to talk about the discrimination in America.

~Avery Douglas, Westlake High School

Dear Editor:

House Bills 322 and 327, if implemented, will be laws that only serve to censor history and harm the education of the future leaders of this country. To begin, the stated “reason” for these bills is rooted in a problem that does not exist, and that problem is the perceived teaching of critical race theory. Unfortunately, what many uneducated voters do not realize is that critical race theory is not even a subject taught in high school. In fact, CRT is found primarily in college-level law courses. The reason? To teach future lawyers and defenders of justice the history of laws and regulations that were created to hinder the rights and freedom of minorities. Today, modern legislators are arguing that this teaching of CRT is dangerous and causes white children to hate themselves. Really, these legislators are pushing these bills so the status quo is preserved, and the systemic racism in the United States continues to exist.

If these bills are passed, education in Ohio will be significantly worse as students would never know the true nature of events in American history and the reasoning behind laws that are still in use today. Moreover, these bills prohibit the teaching of “divisive topics.” Without a true definition, this could mean anything. These legislators most likely hope to stop the teaching of true history and systemic racism, but there are far-reaching implications. Divisive topics, to some, could mean World War II and the Holocaust, The Civil War, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and more issues that may paint America and the world in a poor light. Overall, these bills prevent the teaching of real history, and those who do not know the history of America and its shortcomings, are doomed to repeat it.

~Greg Ganor, Rocky River High School

Dear Editor:

I am writing about two pending bills in the Ohio House of Representatives, House Bills 322 and 327. These bills actively censor hard history and other “divisive concepts.” They punish teachers for violations, and school districts as well via removal of teaching licenses or limiting state funding. I want to make it exceptionally clear that these bills will harm students in Ohio public schools and universities. Proposed by House Republicans, these bills exist only to silence the actual history of our country, such as slavery and its effects, systemic racism, and many more important topics. They silence minority communities only to preserve an idyllic false sense of security.

If these bills were to pass, the education of Ohio students would be greatly harmed. For example, we would not be able to discuss current events to a deep level, and we would be unable to have debates in class about “divisive concepts.” This would create a generation of students who would be unable to think critically about themselves, the past, or the world they currently live in. This would be detrimental to the development of our democratic society.

To close, I would like to urge readers to contact their representatives about these bills and tell them exactly why these bills cannot pass. And while much of this appears to revolve around critical race theory, I want to make abundantly clear that CRT has never been, and is not currently taught in schools.

~Owen Ganor, Rocky River High School


Dear Editor:

I would like to stress the urgent need for the Boards of Education and individuals across the state to combat Ohio House Bills 322 and 327. As a student who has benefited from curriculum and extracurricular content focused on identity, bias, and how power is manifested, maintained and undermined, we respectfully ask state leaders to leverage their leadership position and engage school leaders, teachers and the larger education community in this work as well. The bills prohibit the promotion, teaching, and training of “Divisive Concepts” across Pre K-12, Higher Education, and Political Subdivisions with consequences ranging from losing 100% of school funding to revoking the licenses of teachers. These bills use the vague language of “divisive concepts” to prohibit any teaching and discussion of America’s racial history and current events in school today.

HB 322 and 327 hide as an attempt to limit “divisiveness” in what is really an attack on the values that schools should hold most at its core: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. They encourage narrow, singular viewpoints that perpetuate racist, discriminatory and exclusionary abuse, trauma, behavior and narratives in the classroom while also discouraging the student voices and advocacy that is central to Shaker’s student organizations. If passed, House Bills 322 and 327 would harm students and communities tremendously. We call on the school boards across the state to mobilize against this legislation and do everything in their power, vested in them by the community, to combat their passage.

~Carly Lehman, Shaker Hts. graduate 2019

Dear Editor,

I am scared for Ohio’s educational future. This isn’t a generalized fear, but rather one borne from two bills currently in the Ohio House of Representatives: House Bills 322 and 327. These bills are attempting to inflict heavy penalties (suspension of teaching licenses alongside slashing school funding) for public K-12 schools that dare to discuss current events related to race, gender, and sex, or even attempt to discuss “divisive events,” respectively.

As a student, a scientist, and someone who has worked for years to make my voice heard because of Fragile X syndrome, these bills are absolutely appalling to me. The entire point of an education is to learn and grow from challenging discussions. Suppose we as students can’t discuss such fundamental topics in the classroom. How will we be able to become effective members of society?

The answer to my previous question is “we won’t,” but there is some good news: these bills haven’t been passed yet. The goal of these bills is to control our voices. Still, by learning, organizing, and speaking out against these bills (check out Honesty for Ohio Education), you, the reader, can help to protect our educational system.

~Jacob Rintamaki, Westlake High School

Dear Editor:

In my more than 15 years of education thus far, I have not learned Critical Race Theory (CRT). On the surface, Ohio’s House Bill 322 and Sub House Bill 327 ban something that is rarely even taught at the undergraduate level, let alone in elementary schools. But, in fact, what they really aim to do is use CRT as a cover for banning any productive discourse in the classroom about real issues of history and the present day.

The proposed bills would still allow “impartial discussions” of controversial aspects of history, such as the oppression of a group of people. I wonder, though, how teachers are expected to approach these topics impartially; by not saying that the oppressors were wrong? Many aspects of history are controversial precisely because they are not impartial. In other words, if something was able to be discussed truly impartially, it would not be controversial.

When future Ohio students learn about HB 322, Sub HB 327, and the other bills like it across America, what will they be taught, that their legislators restricted their learning, or that it was understood that society can only progress through hard conversations? It’s a trick question—if these bills pass, future students will not learn about them at all. They will be considered a “divisive concept” and therefore banned. I urge our legislators to vote no on HB 327 and HB 322, which are dangerous for the future of our state.

~Lily Steiger, 2018 Beachwood High School graduate  (Presently a senior at the University of Rochester)

Dear Editor:

As a student and activist, I believe in creating spaces where community members see and feel their identities and identities different than their own, affirmed. I have grown from classroom experiences that have pushed me to develop my sociopolitical consciousness and understand how my overlapping and intersecting social positionalities interact with systems of power. I have been empowered to analyze historical and current structural oppression with a critical lens, which informs how I approach my own social justice advocacy. If passed, house Bills 322 and 327 would harm educational communities tremendously by failing to create nurturing and healing spaces in school. Further, students would be less prepared to examine and interpret systemic issues. By deeming conversations about how students experience these structures of power “divisive,” these bills blatantly reject inclusion, replicate conditions of exploitation, and hurt kids.

We need to foster school environments which implement frameworks and models for students to acquire critical and intentional relationships with each other and the world. We need conversations in classrooms which challenge existing social orders, dominant narratives, and norms instead of reinforcing them. We must ask questions like, “How do we see subordination legitimized? How are colonial ideals upheld? What are ways in which marginalization is experienced and how do we avoid understanding marginalization as monolithic? How do identity and power interact? How do we push back against dominant and hierarchical structures and relationships?” I am fighting for curriculum and content that courageously embraces exploration of how power is manifested, maintained, and undermined. I urge folks to leverage their leadership, join coalitions, and engage in action to combat the passage of 322 and 327.

~Elliott Vahey, recent Shaker High School graduate