Indiana school ‘transparency’ bill language likely dead

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Language from a contentious bill that sought to place broad restrictions on teaching about racism and political topics in Indiana is unlikely to be revived after the Senate stalled the measure earlier this week.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said Thursday that even if language from House Bill 1134 is brought back in another proposal, it’s “highly unlikely” that House Republicans would be on board.

“My caucus feels really good about what 1134 was, and I’m not sure that we’re willing to accept anything that’s less than what the Senate might be comfortable with,” Huston said.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said Thursday that “chances do not look good” for the bill.

He told reporters earlier this week that the bill in its entirety would not be inserted into another, but that lawmakers might use conference committees to piecemeal portions of the bill into others as the end of the legislative session nears.

Four education bills heard in conference committees on Thursday did not see the addition of any of the school “transparency” language. Lawmakers have until March 14 — the last day of the legislative session — to try to bring portions of that language back.

Republican Sen. Linda Rogers of Granger, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said she could not confirm lawmakers’ plans on Thursday. Republican Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he was also unsure of any attempts to resurrect the bill’s language.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said Thursday it was “difficult” for him to weigh in on the bill that he called “ever-evolving,” noting that “a lot happens in last five or 10 days of a session.”

“This is like the last five or 10 laps of the race” Holcomb said. “But I’m going to be focused on trying to make sure we strike while the iron is hot.”

The leader of the state’s largest teachers union joined a coalition of civil rights, faith, parent and public education groups at the Indiana Statehouse Thursday to protest any revival of the bill.

“Here we are in the final days of the session, and there are efforts to revive the contents of House Bill 1134 during a time of the session when there is much less transparency in the legislative process,” said Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill. “In all its forms, this bill would micromanage our educators and threaten their ability to teach.”

Mark Russell, director of advocacy and family services at the Indianapolis Urban League, added that Black students are unfairly targeted by the bill, which he said seeks to “whitewash history” and prohibit educators from “teaching historic realities.” Reviving its language, he continued, would be unjust to all Hoosier students.

“We cannot look at our children as political pawns, nor should their futures and their educations be treated as such by the state’s politicians,” Russell said.

The bill faced a Monday deadline in the Senate for the debate of proposed amendments, but Rogers did not call it for debate before the Senate adjourned for the day, which killed the measure.

That was after the proposal’s language was rolled back several times in response to an outcry from teachers and other critics who have maintained that the bill would amount to “censorship” of classroom instruction and curriculum.

The latest bill version endorsed by the Senate education committee two weeks ago stipulated 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.

It also would have ensured that parents could access their school’s learning management system and allowed them to review any other learning materials used in their child’s classroom upon request. Parents would have also been able to request that a school board adopt a parent committee to review curriculum, though it would not be required.

Many Republican lawmakers made school curriculum transparency a top priority amid the national conservative movement against teaching concepts in K-12 schools such as critical race theory, which has become a catchall term for the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

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