State Rep. John Ragan says the fresh round of criticism he has faced for sponsorship of so-called “don’t say gay” bill is uninformed and unfair because he was trying to completely transform the bill so that it had “absolutely nothing to do” with homosexuality.
“It really irritates me in a major fashion,” said Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, in an interview.
An article posted on both The Daily Kos and The Huffington Post chides StudentsFirst, a national education reform organization, for declaring Ragan a Tennessee “educational reformer of the year” while he was sponsor of the “don’t say gay” bill (HB1332).
“The latest version would have forced select Tennessee school officials to notify parents of children who privately discussed their sexual orientation, essentially dictating forced ‘outing’ of kids, even against their own objections,” the article says. “Ragan’s proposed education bill is more than just ignorant and wrong, and bad policy, it’s downright dangerous and does anything but ‘put students first.’ ”
The article says that Eric Lerum, vice president of national policy for StudentsFirst, responded to “an angry backlash on Twitter” by saying the organization was “unaware of John Ragan’s anti-gay history and ‘We wouldn’t have endorsed had we known.’ ”
Brent Easley, state director of StudentsFirst in Tennessee, said the “reformer of the year” designation actually came in 2012, before Ragan filed the bill this year. StudentsFirst’s political action committee also gave Ragan $6,500 for his 2012 re-election campaign.
Easley provided a statement from StudentsFirst declaring the bill “an ill-conceived, harmful piece of legislation that would have represented a backward step for Tennessee schools and kids.”
But Easley said he and others with StudentsFirst had not seen the rewritten version of the bill, which Ragan had prepared for presentation to a House subcommittee. When he appeared before the panel, however, no member was willing to make the necessary ‘seconding motion’ as a preliminary before discussion. The bill thus failed and the rewrite amendment was never posted on the Legislature’s website.
Ragan said he resented that no one making critical comments had contacted him, instead making assumptions and extrapolating on others comments “to make it sound like I’m doing something I’m not doing” and that he is anti-gay when that is not the case.
“I’m enough of a Libertarian that, if it’s in private and no one is hurt, that’s between them, their family and their creator. I truly don’t care,” he said.
Ragan said he has long been concerned that student counselors, school administrators and nurses are not prepared to deal with student mental health problems, as evidenced by more than 40 cases of students shooting other students nationwide in recent years.
The rewrite amendment, provided to the News Sentinel by Ragan, seeks to address that problem by declaring that school counselors — unless a licensed psychologists or psychiatrists — “may not engage in counseling on mental health or other conditions or activities outside career and educational counseling.”
(Note: For PDF of the rewrite amendment, click on this link:20130501165016701.pdf
The bill says there should be a “medical referral” to professionals and notification of “appropriate authorities” in situations where school counselors or other personnel believe a student is “engaging in, or who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person.”
It also says that school officials shall “notify parents or legal guardians in the manner specified by law for such a medical referral.”
While Campfield, commenting on an earlier version, said he believes homosexual activity raises the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease and should trigger parental notification by counselors, Ragan said his version leaves it to the judgment of professionals what should or should not be relayed to parents.
Campfield said he discussed the rewrite with Ragan and told him to go ahead with it, though the senator is not sure he agrees completely with the overhaul.
“I’m not saying I’m against it,” Campfield said, adding he favors “whatever it takes” to get the bill moving next year despite publicity that “now has the screaming meemies freaking out with everything that comes up.”
Ragan said the “stigma” attached to the “don’t say gay” label is such that he may file the new amendment as separate legislation next year, perhaps even dropping Campfield’s chosen title for the bill — the “Classroom Protection Act,” which was incorporated into the rewrite.
Easley said he and others with StudentsFirst had not seen Ragan’s rewrite. After being sent a copy by email and asked whether the revision would change the organization’s view of the legislation, Easley declined further comment.
Asked if that meant the rewrite did not change StudentsFirst’s assessment of the bill, he replied via email, “Correct.”
Ragan said he has given copies of the amendment to officials of the state Department of Health and Department of Education and will try to incorporate their suggestions when the bill comes up next year.
Note: Here’s the StudentsFirst statement:
Tim Melton, Vice President for Legislative Affairs, released the following statement regarding the organization’s stance on HB 1332 in the Tennessee state legislature:
“More than a year ago, StudentsFirst endorsed and highlighted Representative John Ragan in Tennessee because of his support of several education policies for which we advocate. For example, he supported an overhaul to Tennessee’s outdated teacher tenure system, cast an important vote to end arbitrary limits on the number of charter schools in Tennessee, and co-sponsored measures to make it easier for experienced professionals in science and math to enter the classroom.
However, a bill he introduced this year, HB 1332, is an ill-conceived, harmful piece of legislation that would have represented a backward step for Tennessee schools and kids. StudentsFirst did not at any time support HB 1332 and will not support any similar legislation, whether in Tennessee or any other state. Thankfully, members of the Tennessee legislature agreed, and did not allow the bill to move forward.
When it comes to this kind of legislation, StudentsFirst is clear that we stand strongly opposed to policies, statements, or actions that could create an unsafe or unwelcoming environment for any student in any school. In Tennessee and elsewhere, we remain committed to that and to working with parents, teachers, and administrators to ensure every student has a great teacher, parents have access to great schools, and that policymakers are making effective use of public dollars.”
Note II: Huffington Post commentary on the statement, HERE.