Indiana Senate Bill Sparks Curriculum Debate | Indiana News

By CASEY SMITH, Associated Press / Report for America

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Lawmakers in Indiana on Wednesday began debate on a Republican-backed bill that would require all school curricula to be put online for parental review and ban schools’ ability to implement concepts such as critical race theory.

The proposal, which Republican bill author Senator Scott Baldwin argued was intended to prevent certain “discriminatory concepts” from being taught in classrooms, prompted a full day of testimony before the committee. Senate education advocates for schools, teachers and parents. .

The first draft of the Senate bill prohibits K-12 schools from requiring a student or employee to “engage in any training, counseling or therapy that presents any form of racial or sexual stereotypes 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 as part of their curriculum.

The bill does not explicitly refer to Critical Race Theory, which has become a catch-all term for the idea that racism is systemic in the institutions of the nation and that they function to maintain the dominance of the people. White people in society.

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Instead, he says schools cannot teach “that every individual must experience discomfort, guilt, anguish, responsibility or any other form of psychological distress” because of what Baldwin called “the eight specific concepts of division” described in the text of the bill. .

Baldwin said a critical aspect of the bill requires transparency for parents by requiring all programs to be posted online and by creating program committees with parents to approve class material. He questioned, however, whether posting the program online was too burdensome for teachers and said he was open to changing that language.

Bob Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, echoed the testimony of many educators on Wednesday that requiring publication of curricula or lesson plans, rather than entire lesson plans, would be less punitive and cumbersome. for individual teachers.

According to the legislation, parental consent would also be required for ongoing mental, social and emotional services to students, except in a crisis or emergency.

If schools violate the law, the bill allows parents to take legal action against the school corporation.

Baldwin maintained on Wednesday that the bill was drafted in a different format ahead of the 2021 legislative session, and said he had heard “many complaints” from voters about “divisive” concepts. taught in Indiana schools.

He further insisted that nothing in the bill was intended to prevent the teaching of “historical facts”.

“Teaching about factual matters, from past to present, good or bad, is not a subject of this bill,” he said. “We are creating new language in the Indiana code to make it clear that these are discriminatory concepts that Indiana schools do not believe.”

Gail Zeheralis, director of government relations for the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the bill would have a negative effect on teachers, making them feel “constrained” by what they will be allowed to teach, and adding to already “frustrating” workloads.

“The bill comes at a time when our schools are very stressed, when teachers and staff have moved heaven and earth to put in place an educational program to meet children where they are, in person and remotely, ”Zeheralis said. noted. “It will hurt children’s abilities to learn and grow, both in terms of understanding the world and developing their own critical thinking skills. “

Two similar bills introduced in the House would further require schools to post learning materials and educational activities publicly online.

A bill requires students to learn that concepts like “socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems” are “incompatible with the concepts of freedom on which the United States was founded,” from the sixth to the twelfth year.

The legislation also allows parents to remove their students from face mask or vaccine requirements, and requires schools not to require vaccination against COVID-19 or another communicable disease “as a condition of employment, registration, presence or participation in a school society. or a qualified school or in a school extracurricular activity.

Another bill, which also requires schools to post educational materials online and stipulates what can and cannot be taught in classrooms, will be considered by the House education committee on Monday.

Casey Smith is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative Corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.

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Norman D. Briggs