Indiana education groups mount opposition to curriculum bill
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana teachers and others are mounting opposition to a House bill that Republican lawmakers say would increase transparency of school curricula, even after Senate leaders decided to effectively abandon their version of the legislation.
The bill would require classroom materials to be posted online and vetted by parent review committees, and restrict teaching about racism and politics.
It would limit what teachers can say in class on sensitive subjects, prohibiting them from using materials that “present any form of racial or sex-stereotyping or blame on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”
Representatives from the Indiana State Teachers Association, the largest teachers union in the state, joined a coalition of civil rights, faith and public education groups at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday to oppose the bill, which they said aims to censor classroom instruction and place unnecessary additional workloads on educators.
The bill “will stifle future generations, leaving many students without people who look like them in their history books,” said ISTA president Keith Gambill. “It will curb and temper educators’ ability to bring creativity into learning, and place undo burden onto educators in an already challenging environment.”
Marshawn Wolley, with the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, added that the bill wants to stop teachers from talking about racism, limiting education on topics such as slavery and Jim Crow.
“To put my child in a classroom where he will sit and be taught just the facts, excluding racism as a fact of life that Black people face, ... in this city, in this state, every day, is unconscionable,” Wolley said.
Republican Rep. Tony Cook of Cicero, who authored the House bill, has said the legislation strives to ensure educators “remain impartial in teaching curriculum” and “ensure that students are free to express their own beliefs and viewpoints concerning curricular materials and educational activities without discrimination.”
In response to teachers’ ongoing criticism, the bill has been amended to expand some definitions of what can be taught about “historical injustices,” and to stipulate that while schools must post class materials online, teachers do not have to upload daily lesson plans.
Cook has been absent from the statehouse this week due to a death in the family, and the bill was withheld from the House floor on Tuesday.
Republican Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, who chairs the House education committee, said Wednesday that the Republican caucus has not discussed the bill since Sunday and that the decision to call the bill is up to Cook, who could return to the Statehouse as early as Thursday.
The bill could be voted on by the full House next week. It’s one of three “education matters” bills proposed by conservative lawmakers in the current session, which they say would give parents more say on what is taught in schools.
House Republicans are pushing ahead with the bill, even after the Senate effectively defeated a similar proposal last week.
The Senate bill, authored by Republican Sen. Scott Baldwin of Noblesville, would have prohibited K-12 schools from requiring a student or employee to “engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of racial or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.” Teachers would also not be allowed to “include or promote” such concepts in class.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said in a statement Friday that the Republican-led Legislature had “determined there is no path forward” for the Senate bill.
Baldwin drew widespread condemnation this month when he said teachers must be “impartial” when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies. He later walked back his comments, saying he meant to say he “unequivocally” condemns Nazism, fascism and Marxism, and that he agrees that teachers “should condemn those dangerous ideologies.”
Some language from Baldwin’s bill were at the heart of another proposal taken up by the Senate education committee on Wednesday.
Bill author Republican Sen. Jim Tomes of Wadesville said his legislation would remove educational purposes as reason that public school libraries and public libraries could claim legal protection for sharing “harmful material” with minors.
The proposal drew more than three hours of testimony and could be advanced to the full Senate next week.
This story was first published on Jan. 19. It was updated on Jan. 20 to delete a reference to Tomes’ bill not defining what would constitute “harmful material.” The bill would modify an existing law that already includes such a definition.
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. Follow Smith on Twitter.