Teachers, librarians caught giving ‘obscene’ materials to kids could be charged with felony under new Ohio bill

A Republican state representative in Ohio has proposed a bill which, if passed, would bar teachers and librarians from exposing schoolchildren to obscene material.

Last month, state Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) introduced H.B. 556 which would “create criminal liability for certain teachers and librarians for the offense of pandering obscenity.” Under H.B. 556, educators could not create, publish, or perform anything that features “obscene material.” They would similarly be prohibited from promoting public events containing obscene material.

‘A 2nd grader does not need to dodge obscenity in the school library, no matter who the subjects of the obscenity are.’

Should the bill become law, any such teacher or librarian caught sharing or promoting such material could be charged with a Class 5 felony, which carries a sentence of between six and 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine, WLWT reported. The bill permits certain exceptions for biology and health teachers as well as material with “a bona fide medical, scientific, religious, governmental, judicial, or other proper purpose.”

“The purpose of House Bill 556 is to ensure the standard obscenity rules that operate in day-to-day life, from Barnes & Noble to our television sets, are upheld in our K-12 educational spaces,” Rep. Mathews said in a statement. “We want to protect the trust and relationship between parents, teachers, and students during the school day.”

Critics, however, countered that the bill never defines obscenity and would therefore be abused to go after teachers. Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, claimed the “vagueness of the bill” would give “bad faith actors” the opportunity to attack public educators under the guise of “protecting children.”

Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro went a step farther, claiming he was “appalled” by the bill and suggesting that it attempted “to silence or punish educators for doing their jobs.”

“HB 556 would have a chilling effect on our classrooms,” he continued, “by making trained, experienced professionals unsure whether the necessary, legitimate education materials they have been using with their students would be safe under this dangerous law.”

Several also mentioned that Ohio law already forbids pandering obscene material.

Mathews acknowledged that an anti-obscenity law already exists but added that his bill would ensure such laws would be enforced in Ohio schools and school libraries. He also indicated that teachers can easily cover sensitive topics with their students without using obscene material.

“Simply put, a 2nd grader does not need to dodge obscenity in the school library, no matter who the subjects of the obscenity are,” he said. “… Further, newspapers and history books can inform without delving into obscenity, and I have full confidence teachers can handle tough topics like human trafficking similarly.”

H.B. 556 has since been passed along to the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee. However, the committee has yet to schedule a date to consider it.

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