INDIANAPOLIS — A controversial Indiana bill that Republican lawmakers contend would increase transparency around school curricula has drawn opposition from dozens of teachers who testified Monday at the Statehouse that the legislation would censor classroom instruction and place unnecessary additional workloads on educators.
The bill is one of several moving through the Indiana Legislature that seek to require all school curricula to be vetted by parent review committees and posted publicly online, in addition to banning schools' ability to implement concepts like critical race theory.
Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America's history that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation's institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
Scott Miller, superintendent of the School City of Hammond, emphasized that addressing "sensitive topics" in the classroom is necessary to help young people learn how to evaluate the truth. Attempts to keep students from learning about dissenting ideologies, he continued, "will only end up driving our youth straight to those ideologies."
Miller said he believes the legislation stems from "fear that diverse perspectives on our country's founding will lessen the strength and patriotism of our young people."
"Addressing that fear by attempting to chill classroom discussion and silencing certain worldviews will only further divide our children," he said.
Paul Farmer, a teacher in the Monroe County Community School Corporation, noted that the bill's language requiring educators to separately post all classroom curricula online for parents — including lesson plans, worksheets, presentations and other materials — would be an additional workload for already stressed teachers.
"Is this really going to decrease the number of teachers that go into education? The answer is yes, it will, because it's going to scare them ... because you can't do it all," Farmer said.
Laura Falk, an educator and diversity initiative specialist with the West Lafayette Community School Corporation, said she questioned the bill's intentions amid recent nationwide discussions around "white fragility, and focus on the systemic racist policies that have been so deeply woven into our nation's fabric."
"When I look through my lens as a Black woman, I find many of these items are interesting, as I've experienced decades of discrimination and learned through my experience that there are certain groups that are still discriminated against today ...," Falk said. "Our students deserve an honest and accurate education that enables them to learn from our past mistakes to help create a better future possible — instead of focusing on possible distress that students might experience."
Rep. Tony Cook, a former teacher and school superintendent who authored the House bill heard on Monday, echoed fellow Republican lawmakers, saying the legislation only strives to ensure educators "remain impartial in teaching curriculum" and "ensure that students are free to express their own beliefs and viewpoints concerning curricular materials and educational activities without discrimination."
He noted, too, that at least two forthcoming amendments to the bill are expected to be discussed in the education committee on Wednesday, the same day lawmakers are slated to hear additional testimony and vote on advancing the bill to the full House.
A nearly identical proposal in the Senate, which Republican bill author Sen. Scott Baldwin maintained is intended to prevent certain "discriminatory concepts" from being taught in classrooms, sparked more than eight hours of testimony last week.
Baldwin's exchange with a teacher during testimony on that bill sparked criticism after he said teachers must be "impartial" when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies, although he has since walked back those statements.
The bill is scheduled for a vote by the Senate education committee on Wednesday.
A similar piece of legislation in the House, authored by Republican Rep. J.D. Prescott of Union City, would additionally require students to be taught that concepts like "socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems" are "incompatible with the concepts of freedom upon which the United States was founded," in grades six through 12.
His proposal — which has not yet been assigned a hearing by the House education committee — would also allow parents to opt their students out of face mask or vaccine requirements, and mandates that schools cannot require students or teachers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or another communicable disease.
Another Republican-backed House bill that would add political-party identifications to what are now nonpartisan school board elections in Indiana is scheduled to be heard by the House elections committee on Tuesday.
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.