Indiana lawmakers step back ‘curricula transparency’ bill

Indiana lawmakers rolled back a contentious bill aimed at increasing transparency of school curricula Wednesday in response to mounting criticism from teachers and education advocates.

State senators also moved forward with a separate bill that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in K-12 school sports that match their gender identity, despite opposition from activists that it’s unconstitutional, sexist and bigoted.

The Senate education committee adopted significant changes to a Republican-backed “curriculum transparency” measure Wednesday that legislators could advance to the full Senate next week.

An amendment offered by Republican bill sponsor Sen. Linda Rogers of Granger removed strongly-debated provisions in the bill requiring classroom materials to be posted online and vetted by parent review committees.

Instead, the amended bill now ensures parents have access to their school’s learning management system and allows them to review any other learning materials used in their child’s classroom upon request. Parents could request a school board to adopt a parent committee to review curriculum, though it would not be required.

Sen. Linda Rogers

“I wanted to provide a path for parents to be involved in their child’s education,” Rogers said, adding that she also wanted to ensure that school districts still maintain local control. “I wanted to recognize that we have over 60,000 teachers here in Indiana, great teachers. Now do some of them cross the line? Yeah, they do. … This legislation, hopefully, will rein them back in.”

Language about lawsuits for violations of the bill was also removed. Instead, the new version of the bill allows parents to appeal to the Indiana Department of Education to take administrative action for a violation if they remain unsatisfied after following the school’s grievance process.

Other provisions in the original bill that would have restricted teaching about racism and politics were removed with the amendment.

Rather than a ban on teaching certain “divisive concepts,” the bill stipulates that schools would be barred from teaching that one group is inherently superior or inferior to another, that one group should be treated adversely or preferentially, and that individuals, by virtue of their traits, “are inherently responsible” for the past actions of others who share their traits.

Teachers and other critics argued that the earlier version of the bill, authored by Republican Rep. Tony Cook of Cicero, would amount to “censorship” of classroom instruction and curriculum.

Dozens of educators who testified at the Statehouse on Wednesday said they were appreciative of the changes but still had concerns.

Gail Zeheralis, the Indiana State Teachers Association’s director of government relations, said the largest teachers union in the state remained opposed to the amended bill, arguing that the proposal’s foundation rests on “pitting parents against teachers” and preventing students from receiving a well-rounded education.

“A wrongly conceived idea can only be improved so much. And then when things are stripped away, we’re left with this misdirection,” Zeheralis said.

The House advanced the measure last month, largely along party lines.

The Senate education committee killed a similar proposal in January after Republican Sen. Scott Baldwin of Noblesville said maintaining neutrality on contentious issues required teachers to be “impartial” when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies.

Following widespread criticism, Baldwin walked back the comments, saying in a statement that he “unequivocally” condemns Nazism, fascism and Marxism and agrees that teachers should do the same.

A bill seeking to prohibit transgender athletes from playing school sports will additionally head to the full Senate after the education committee advanced the proposal in an 8-3 vote, along party lines. The measure advanced from the House last month.

Democratic Sen. J.D. Ford of Indianapolis called the bill “unnecessary and unconstitutional,” noting that the Indiana High School Athletic Association already has a policy that requires transgender girls who want to play sports to show they’ve completed hormone therapy and that their muscle mass or bone density is typical of other girls the same age.

“Instead of addressing the teacher shortage, instead of addressing student mental health, we’re getting sidetracked with bills like this,” Ford said in a statement Wednesday. “Even filing this bill sends a message to trans kids and their families that they’re not welcomed in our state.”

The bill 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.

Republican Rep. Michelle Davis of Greenwood, who authored the bill, said its purpose is to “maintain fair competition in girls’ sports.”

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union maintained Wednesday that the group will file a lawsuit if the “hateful legislation” is signed into law in Indiana.

If the bill passes the Legislature, Indiana could be the 11th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls.

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