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Indiana lawmakers roll back curriculum transparency bills

January 12, 2022 GMT
Rep. Vernon Smith, left, D-Gary, looks at his notes during the first day of the legislative session at the the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Rep. Vernon Smith, left, D-Gary, looks at his notes during the first day of the legislative session at the the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Rep. Vernon Smith, left, D-Gary, looks at his notes during the first day of the legislative session at the the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Indiana are rolling back the language in a series of bills they said would increase transparency around school curricula, after the proposals drew national attention and widespread opposition.

State senators on Wednesday held back their bill, one of three “education matters” proposals being pushed by conservative lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly that would mandate that classroom materials be vetted by parent review committees and place restrictions on teaching about racism and political topics.

The House education committee also amended out what teachers called some of the most vexatious parts of another bill, which included a requirement that all school curricula, such as daily lesson plans, be posted publicly online.

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Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said Tuesday that legislators needed additional time to work on language in the Senate bill authored by Republican. Sen. Scott Baldwin.

Baldwin’s exchange with a teacher during testimony on the bill last week sparked national news coverage and social media backlash after he said teachers must be “impartial” when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies.

Talk show host Stephen Colbert stepped in, too, highlighting Baldwin’s remarks for nearly three minutes during his “Late Show” monologue Monday evening and joking that Baldwin’s proposed limits on teaching would “leave shop class and six hours of dodgeball” as the only things taught in Indiana schools.

Baldwin has since walked back his comments, saying in a statement Monday that he meant to say he “unequivocally” condemns Nazism, fascism and Marxism, and that he agrees that teachers “should condemn those dangerous ideologies.”

Bray said Tuesday evening that Baldwin and other lawmakers are continuing “to make sure that we have the right landing spot” for the bill.

“It’s difficult to craft the kind of legislation I know Sen. Baldwin has worked for weeks ... to try and make sure that language is correct. It is a difficult thing to do,” Bray said.

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Baldwin, who was elected in 2020, faced scrutiny in the past after his name was included on a list of purported members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group. He denied involvement, however, telling The Indianapolis Star that he made a $30 donation to the group during an unsuccessful 2010 bid for county sheriff but had no interaction with the Oath Keepers since.

Baldwin has maintained that his intent is to prevent certain “discriminatory concepts” from being taught in classrooms. He was absent from Senate proceedings Wednesday due to a coronavirus exposure, Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz said ahead of the education committee’s meeting.

Republican Rep. Tony Cook of Cicero, who authored the House bill revised on Wednesday, emphasized that new language in the legislation ensures educators can still discuss “social injustices” and that “schools can and should teach that Nazism is bad.”

The amended bill does not reference Nazism specifically, but instead expands on the definition of “historical injustices by or against” any group to include any “political affiliation or ideals or values that conflict with the Constitution.”

The amendment also includes a new requirement that students are taught constitutional “ideals and values,” in contrast with forms of government that “conflict with and are incompatible with the principles of Western political thought upon which the United States was founded.”

To address concerns raised by teachers during Statehouse testimony last week, another amendment to the bill stipulates that while schools must post class materials online, teachers do not have to upload daily lesson plans.

The House bill additionally includes changes to a provision allowing lawsuits if a school doesn’t respond to complaints about teachers. Allegations would be subject to a statute of limitation of 30 business days and must show “willful or wanton” violations of the law, according to the amended bill.

The House education committee approved the bill 8-5, with Republican Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany joining Democrats in voting against the proposal. The bill now heads to the full House, where it could be considered next week.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.