By CASEY SMITH Associated Press/Report for America
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers are moving forward with a series of contentious Republican-backed bills that they say would increase transparency of K-12 school curricula and restrict students from accessing “harmful materials” at libraries.
One proposal, which was approved by the House on Wednesday, would require classroom materials to be posted online and vetted by parent review committees, and restrict teaching about racism and politics.
It would also 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.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, where it could be taken up as early as next week.
House lawmakers on Tuesday rolled back the bill’s language a second time to address ongoing concerns raised by teachers and education advocates during Statehouse testimony in recent weeks.
While the amended bill stipulates that schools must still post class materials online, educators are only required to post “bibliographic materials,” rather than daily lesson plans. Any “pre-planned” curriculum for the academic year would need to be made available on the school’s website or online learning management system by Aug. 1, annually.
A provision allowing lawsuits if a school doesn’t respond to complaints about teachers was also amended to cap civil damages for violations at $1,000. Allegations would still 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.
A failed amendment by Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis — who said the bill would lead to increased litigation — would have made the state responsible for legal fees, rather than school districts.
“We’re afraid of change. We want to tell our kids everything’s alright the way it is … And we want to tell some parents that if you think the teacher went a step too far, go make a complaint,” DeLaney said Wednesday. “So what do we want our kids to do? We don’t want them to be woke. We want them to be asleep. That’s what this bill proposes — put our kids, and their minds, and their futures to sleep.”
Republican Rep. Tony Cook of Cicero, who authored the bill, argued his goal is to “empower parents” by increasing transparency around classroom curricula, while still allowing for the teaching of historical injustices.
“All measures in this bill are required to ensure that parents have opportunity to be aware, in real time, of what and how material is being taught in their students classrooms,” Cook said.
House Republicans are pushing ahead with the bill, even after the Senate effectively defeated a similar proposal.
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.
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 was at the heart of another proposal that advanced to the full Senate on Wednesday.
The author of that bill, Republican Sen. Jim Tomes of Wadesville, said his legislation would remove educational purposes as a reason that public schools and libraries could claim legal protection for sharing “harmful material” with minors. That includes books and other materials deemed to be obscene, pornographic or violent.
Legislators additionally pushed forward a bill on Wednesday that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity.
The proposal, which could get approval from the full House on Thursday, would prohibit students who were born male but identify as female from participating in a sport or on an athletic team that is designated for women or girls. But it wouldn’t prevent students who identify as female or transgender men from playing on men’s sports teams.
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.