Indiana lawmakers hear hours of public testimony on school curriculum bill

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers heard hours of testimony Wednesday on a bill that would regulate school curriculum.

“This is a tumultuous, difficult bill and topic,” State Sen. Scott Baldwin (R-Noblesville) acknowledged at the start of Wednesday’s Senate education committee meeting.

Baldwin is one of the authors of Senate Bill 167, which would prohibit schools from teaching certain concepts, including “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently superior or inferior to another sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”

It would also ban schools from teaching “that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”

Democratic lawmakers and others raised several concerns.

“If a teacher is just bringing up slavery and a student automatically feels that it has triggered something that makes them uncomfortable and that they don’t like it, what happens to that teacher at that point?” said State Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary).

“This bill isn’t about not bringing to light historical injustices,” Baldwin responded. “This bill is about letting our kids just be neutral and figure it out for themselves.”

The bill would also allow parents to opt their kids out of certain lessons, something some parents testified they are trying to do right now.

“I don’t want him told that he is guilty of sins of other people, and I don’t want him to feel that he should feel remorse,” said Kara Cecil, a parent with kids in the Center Grove school district.

The bill also requires school districts to form curriculum review committees that include parents and community members. Districts would also have to post classroom materials like lesson plans on their websites.

Robert Taylor of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents suggested changing the requirement of posting a lesson plan to a syllabus, with Taylor and others noting lesson plans can change within the school day.

“When you get into the details of the lesson plan and then the activities and then the constant updating that would be required under this legislation I think becomes the burdensome addition of work that we may not see the benefit of with regard to the transparency this bill is seeking,” said Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals.

The bill would also allow parents and school staff members to sue school districts they believe to be in violation of the law – a provision some organizations would like to see changed or removed.

“Teachers will simply avoid engaging their classrooms in important conversations that are completely appropriate when it comes to race and discrimination,” said Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana. “And also think about the small schools, the small rural schools, the charter schools that don’t have a budget to defend against any frivolous lawsuit.”

Taylor recommended the legislation limit legal action to parents within the school district, preventing people from other communities from filing lawsuits.

“I would ask the authors and the committee to consider being more definitive in that particular defining of who can provide or who can pursue litigation,” Taylor said.

The Senate education committee heard public testimony Wednesday but has not voted on the bill yet.

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