INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers are moving forward with a series of controversial Republican-backed bills they say would increase transparency in K-12 school curricula and prevent students to access “harmful materials” in libraries.
A proposal, which was approved by the House on Wednesday, would require school materials to be posted online and vetted by parent review boards, and would restrict teaching about racism and politics.
It would also limit what teachers can say in the classroom about sensitive topics, prohibiting them from using material that “depicts any form of racial or gender stereotyping or blaming on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.”
The bill is now heading to the Senate, where it could be considered as early as next week.
On Tuesday, House lawmakers struck down the bill’s language a second time to address lingering concerns raised by teachers and education advocates during Statehouse testimony in recent weeks.
Although the amended bill says schools must still post classroom materials online, educators are only required to post “bibliographic material” rather than daily lesson plans. Any “pre-planned” curriculum for the school year should be made available on the school website or online learning management system by August 1 of each year.
A provision allowing lawsuits if a school fails to respond to complaints about teachers was also amended to cap civil damages for violation at $1,000. Allegations would still be subject to a 30-business-day statute of limitations and must show “willful or wanton” violations of the law, according to the amended bill.
A failed amendment by Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis — who said the bill would lead to increased litigation — would have made the state liable for legal fees, rather than school districts.
“We are afraid of change. We want to tell our kids it’s fine as it is … And we want to tell some parents that if you think the teacher has gone too far, go file a complaint,” DeLaney said Wednesday. “So what do we want our children to do? We don’t want them to be awake. We want them to sleep. That is what this bill proposes: putting our children, their minds and their future to sleep.
Republican Rep. Tony Cook de Cicero, who authored the bill, argued that its goal was to “empower parents” by increasing transparency around school curricula, while allowing for the teaching of historical injustices.
“All of the measures in this bill are necessary to ensure that parents have the opportunity to be aware, in real time, of what is being taught in their students’ classrooms and how,” Cook said.
House Republicans are advancing the bill, even after the Senate effectively rejected a similar proposal.
The Senate bill, drafted 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 exhibits any form of racial or gender stereotyping or blaming based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation. Teachers would also not be allowed to “include or promote” such concepts in the classroom.
Baldwin was widely condemned this month when he said teachers should be “impartial” when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies. He later backtracked on his comments, saying he meant he “unequivocally” condemned Nazism, Fascism and Marxism, and agreed that teachers “should condemn these dangerous ideologies”.
Certain terms of Baldwin’s bill were central to another proposal that was presented to the full Senate on Wednesday.
The bill’s author, Republican Sen. Jim Tomes of Wadesville, said his legislation would remove educational purposes as a reason schools and public libraries could seek legal protection for sharing “harmful material” with minors. This includes books and other content deemed obscene, pornographic or violent.
Lawmakers also introduced a bill on Wednesday banning transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity.
The proposal, which could be approved by the full House on Thursday, would prohibit students who were born male but identify as female from participating in a female or female-only sport or sports team. But that wouldn’t stop students who identify as transgender women or men from playing on men’s sports teams.
State Representative Sheila Klinker sent a statement opposing the bill. She said quote.
“No education bill has caused as much concern, concern and fear as Bill 1134. Teachers, who are already under enormous pressure to prepare our children for the future, will have now the added anxiety of trying to plan lessons that won’t make their students and parents “uncomfortable. It’s unsustainable. We’re going to lose a lot of talented teachers because of this bill.” We are already in the midst of a teacher shortage crisis. Our state, our schools, our students, our parents can no longer afford to lose more educators. I am deeply concerned about the future of our education system if this bill becomes law. I urge my fellow legislators in the Senate to stop this bill from moving forward, as they did when they realized their mistake with Senate Bill 167 End of quote.