Fallout over an effort to rescind the Ohio State Board of Education’s anti-racism resolution intensified on Friday morning, with a second board member handing in his resignation.
Eric Poklar, an appointed member of the board, announced his departure Friday after voting “no” on a resolution to repeal and replace Resolution 20, which condemned racism and address disparities in Ohio schools in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year.
“Quite simply, my time on the board has ended and I am ready to hand off my responsibilities to whomever comes next,” Poklar wrote in a letter obtained by Cleveland.com, to Gov. Mike DeWine that didn’t mention the vote. He said that his resignation from the board was “effective immediately.”
Poklar, who served on the board for nearly five years and was reappointed by DeWine in 2020, is the second person to resign after Board President Laura Kohler, a Republican who had also served five years on the board. She said Thursday that she would step down after it became clear that the state’s GOP-controlled Senate would not confirm her reappointment.
The Senate’s resistance comes after a bitter battle over a resolution she played a role in drafting that was aimed at acknowledging and uprooting disparities that caused Black children to fall behind their white classmates in Ohio schools.
The resolution, penned in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police, detailed state data that showed students of color, in particular, faced testing gaps when compared with their white classmates. It also pointed at a trend of alarming data which showed Black male students “are affected disproportionately by suspensions, expulsions and zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools.”
“We have 20 years of data that shows that Black and brown children consistently underperform their white peers,” Kohler told the Columbus-Dispatch in an interview. “Why is pointing that out and saying that is not good enough; why is that controversial?”
The resolution encouraged the Ohio Department of Education to ensure state administered tests were free of racial bias, and that local school districts reflect on curriculum, hiring practices, staff development and potential implicit bias.
That resolution was passed in July 2020, but became political fodder for new members who pledged to repeal it and replace it with vague language that says the board “seeks excellence in education for all children and families, without prejudice or respect to race, ethnicity, or creed.”
That language, introduced by an elected member of the board, became known as Resolution 13. Kohler said that after a measure to rescind Resolution 20 was brought forward earlier this month, she resolved to stand firm and vote against efforts to knock it down.
Nevertheless, the new resolution, which condemned efforts in the classroom that “seek to divide,” passed in a 10-7 vote earlier this month with both Kohler and Poklar voting no.
Kohler and Poklar were the only two appointees who voted against replacing Resolution 20 on a board that includes 11 elected members and eight members who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
Earlier this week, the Ohio Senate confirmed the reappointments of three school board members who supported repealing the anti-racism resolution, according to the Columbus-Dispatch. Those members are: Steve Dackin, Martha Manchester, and J. Timothy Miller. At the time of their confirmations on Wednesday, Poklar had not yet been confirmed.
Kohler told NBC News that her vote was a final stand as board president as she believed it would be the reason the Senate, which had enough votes to remove her, would deny her confirmation.
She told the outlet that she made a decision to resign “in the interest of the state board of education, to avoid becoming a distraction when the work the board does is more important than it ever was before.”
In a tribute on Twitter Thursday, Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, thanked Kohler for “leading with integrity.”
Cropper on Friday suggested that the Senate’s effort to push out Kohler was “an abuse of power.”
“I think it is another example of how our senate and our senate president continues to override the voices of the general public,” she said in an interview with Ideastream Public Media.
In an email to The Daily Beast on Friday, John Fortney, communications director for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, accused Cropper of supporting “far left special interests,” adding that the Ohio Constitution gives the Senate the power to approve or reject gubernatorial appointments to certain roles.
“The former state school board president decided to resign rather than face questions from a Senate committee,” he wrote. “Whether the Senate would’ve consented to another term will never be known, and the governor has already made new appointments for the Senate to review.”
A spokesperson for Gov. DeWine, Daniel Tierney, declined to comment about whether or not the senate had abused its power based on Kohler’s vote in an emailed statement to The Daily Beast on Friday.
“We thank both Ms. Kohler and Mr. Poklar for their service to both the Board and the State of Ohio,” he wrote. “I do not have additional comment at this time.”