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Ohio school board president to resign after refusing to vote against anti-racism resolution

The state Senate made it clear it would not confirm her reappointment because of how she voted, Laura Kohler said Thursday.

The president of the Ohio school board said she plans to resign Friday after the state Senate resisted her reappointment amid a political battle over an anti-racism resolution that she supports.

Laura Kohler, who is serving her fifth year with the State Board of Education of Ohio, told NBC News she intended to offer her resignation to Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday morning. She said the decision came after the state Senate made it clear she would not be reappointed.

Image: Laura Kohler
Laura Kohler.Ohio Dept of Ed

“In October, there was a resolution that was brought forward to rescind what has come to be known as Resolution 20,” Kohler said. “I voted not to rescind and I believe that the fact that I was not going to be confirmed by the Senate is a result of that vote.”

Last year, Kohler helped write an anti-racism and equality resolution in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. The resolution passed last year, affirming the state’s commitment to “excellence in education for all” and condemning racism, The Columbus-Dispatch reported at the time.

The Ohio Senate did confirm the reappointments of three school board members who voted to repeal the resolution, The Columbus-Dispatch reported Thursday.

Kohler said that although DeWine asked her to resign, she did not come to the decision lightly.

“I made it 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,” Kohler said. “And I hope to make it clear to folks that I have tremendous respect and regard for Governor DeWine. ... He’s done a wonderful job of trying to deal with the different opinions of everyone in the state.”

Kohler, a Republican like DeWine, said it was an honor to have been appointed, but “heartbreaking” that schools have become embattled by politics.

“It’s not political in the sense of Democrat vs. Republican. It’s more a sense I think of conservative Republicans not being happy with me as a moderate,” she said.

A representative from DeWine's office declined to comment Thursday, saying it had not yet received a formal resignation.

Schools and school boards across the country have become political battlegrounds as conservative groups take issue with diversity and equity initiatives, which critics have equated with critical race theory, the academic study of racism’s pervasive impact, and have opened public school curriculums up for debate.

Critical race theory is not typically taught in grade school and is pursued as a course of study at the college level.

Lawmakers in at least 22 states have proposed limits on how schools can talk about racial issues, according to NBC News data collected in June. Educators have reported being driven out of their jobs, frustrated and exhausted by the contentious fights.