INDIANAPOLIS – As lawmakers reach the halfway point of the 2022 legislative session, a handful of education bills have caused controversy, from curriculum to high school sports.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed HB 1134, a bill that bans the teaching of certain concepts on race, gender, and ethnicity. It also discourages any topics that make students feel “discomfort or guilt” in the classroom. It has sparked concern from many Indiana educators, saying the state should not be regulating what they teach. Randy Harrison, a teacher at Anderson High Schools, calls the bill unnecessary and will just cause more problems for educators.
“It’s going to put an extra burden on my lesson planning at the cost of a few who may say I’ve made their child uncomfortable because I’m teaching the truth about history,” Harrison said.
Harrison is particularly concerned with parts of the bill that allow parents to enroll their kids in “alternative education” if they feel content in the classroom is inappropriate. Erica Buchanan-Rivera, Director of Equity and Inclusion at Washington Township Schools, shares this concern.
“We need create more opportunities for our teachers to have those learning experiences and more courageous dialogues about race and other topics relevant to humanity,” Buchanan-Rivera said.
While HB 1134 passed the House largely along party lines 60-37, many educators from both sides of the aisle voted against it. It also faces more questions in the Senate before possibly heading to the Governor’s desk. A similar proposal was withdrawn in the Senate, after a legislator made controversial remarks surrounding the teaching of Nazism.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor said he hopes the bill never sees the light of day. Speaking to Statehouse Reporter Kristen Eskow, Sen. Taylor expressed his frustration with the legislature’s priorities. Since bills like HB 1134 are not unique to Indiana, he says it’s part of an effort across the country to censor lessons in the classroom.
“We don’t need to get into a discussion during committee, especially education committee where we know we have so many different things going on with our education system,” Sen. Taylor said. “I really hope that we decide not to put this type of divisive discussion on the agenda.”
Also on the table is HB 1041, which bans transgender-female athletes from participating in high school sports. The House Education Committee held a contentious hearing for the bill with hours of public testimony. After passing the full House of Representatives last week, it now heads to the Senate.
Many parents say it maintains fair competition for their children and other student athletes. On the other hand, parents like Nathaniel Clawson, whose daughter is transgender, say that the bill unfairly targets the transgender community.
“She wouldn’t get to be playing with her best friends. I mean, she wouldn’t get to play with her girlfriends. And that is really, that would be really tough for her,” Clawson said.
Education matters are also dominating the Senate. The upper house is considering SB 17, which would allow criminal prosecution of schools and public libraries for materials deemed to be harmful to children. Right now, these institutions can challenge a complaint, but SB 17 would remove that right. Similar provisions are included in HB 1134. Many parents say this change is long overdue.
“Parents are digging into these books, they’re forming their own committees, and they’re breaking out and they’re searching through all these books and they’re uncovering very pornographic material,” said Rhonda Miller, President of Purple for Parents Indiana.
SB 17 is facing major pushback from librarians across the state. Many say the bill is unnecessary because of grievance procedures already in place. Public library officials like Vanessa Martin, director of the Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library, are speaking out as the bill heads to the Senate floor.
“There are already policies and procedures in place to request a reconsideration of materials that people might find on our shelves that they don’t think belong in our collection,” Martin said.
Watch more IN Focus coverage of the 2022 legislative session in the video above.