House passes Harkins bill to rid school code of offensive language

HARRISBURG, March 22 – Pennsylvania is one step closer to eliminating outdated, derogatory language in the state’s school code with the House’s passage today of a bill introduced by state Rep. Pat Harkins. 

Harkins, D-Erie, said H.B. 365 would remove antiquated, harmful terms to describe students with disabilities or mental health issues – terms he said have no place in the state’s progressive education system.

“Pennsylvania’s school code was written in the middle of the last century, which was still the dark ages in terms of what we understood about the abilities of students with disabilities and mental health issues,” Harkins said. “The code language reflected this, using words like “crippled,” “defective” and “retarded,” and other terms that only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes.

“Although the state Department of Education has been trying to address the problem, we need a unified state effort that delegitimizes this language by banishing it once and for all from our laws. Our education system has come far over the past decades, creating an inclusive classroom environment that allows students of all abilities to learn and achieve. Now, it’s time to lead by example and make sure the language we use reflects that progress.”

Today’s vote represents the second time the House has acted on similar legislation drafted by Harkins. In May 2019, the House unanimously passed an identical bill, but it saw no further action after being referred to the Senate Education Committee.

With the current bill now moving to the state Senate for consideration, Harkins said he hopes to see it finally passed and signed this year.

"It's a chapter we need to put behind us," he said.