Committee approves Harkins bill to remove offensive School Code language

ERIE, March 2 – A bill that would remove antiquated and offensive terminology from Pennsylvania’s School Code was unanimously approved today by the House Education Committee, according to the bill’s author, state Rep. Pat Harkins.

Harkins, D-Erie, said he introduced H.B. 365 to eliminate derogatory terminology that reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health issues and disabilities.

“Language shapes perception, and when official state codes use terms that stereotype or limit, this creates a destructive, long-lasting impression. Hopefully, with committee approval of my bill, we are one step closer to updating and modernizing official state terminology, and with it, the way students with disabilities are perceived.”

Harkins, who has introduced the legislation in prior sessions, noted that the original state law, drafted in 1949, contained offensive terms such as “crippled,” “disturbed,” “handicapped” and “retarded.” Although he said the Department of Education has been working to update and correct some language, he believes it is time to resolve the issue permanently through legislation.

“This is the 21st century,” Harkins said. “We are no longer stuck in the 1950s and constrained by the biases and ignorance of that era when it comes to what people with disabilities can achieve.  Pennsylvania has taken huge strides to establish an inclusive classroom environment. Now, it’s time to make sure the language in our law books reflects that progress and modern-day understanding.”