The Indiana House on Wednesday passed a sweeping bill that would ban schools from teaching “divisive concepts” of race and racism and from making students feel guilt or discomfort because of their race or ethnicity.
The Republican-controlled body passed House Bill 1134 on a 60-37 vote. It now heads to the Senate, which abandoned its own version of the bill after it elicited national criticism.
Author Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) said the purpose of the House bill was to give parents more control over what their children learn in schools, through the curriculum portals and review committees that it creates.
“They have a right to be an active voice in their schools,” Cook said. Many parents feel they haven’t been heard, he said.
Dozens of educators have spoken against the bill, arguing that it would silence classroom discussions of racism and history as teachers fear losing their licenses over complaints.
Rep. Renee Pack (D-Indianapolis) said it was important for students to learn history to avoid repeating its mistakes. She shared her own experience of discomfort as a young Black student learning about slavery.
“I didn’t like hearing about the things that happened to my ancestors — the things they had to endure,” Pack said. “It’s a dirty, shameful truth about this country’s history. But let me tell you this. I took that uncomfortability and turned it into a life of service.”
Teachers also raised concerns about the workload the bill would create for teachers to post all their coursework, seek approval for new material, and create alternate lessons for parents who choose to opt their students out of certain topics.
An amendment added Tuesday attempts to address teacher workload issues by exempting supplemental lessons added at the last minute from online posting. Instead, schools must post only bibliographic information of preplanned curriculum and mind copyright laws.
The bill would allow school boards to require their schools to post more than what the bill specifies.
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The amended bill no longer requires teachers to create alternative assignments for students who are opted-out of lessons.
The amendment also deletes references to state colleges and other state institutions. Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) previously had noted that the language of the bill applied to colleges.
The House rejected a DeLaney amendment to make the state, rather than school districts, responsible for damages brought by lawsuits allowed under the bill.
The revised bill caps damages for violating its provisions at $1,000. It places the responsibility on principals and superintendents for enforcing the ban on certain concepts.
Teachers could still lose their licenses for “willful or wanton” violations of the law.
Speaking in support of the bill, Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) said the amendments to the bill had struck a balance and that the proposal would likely continue to evolve as it moved to the Senate.
Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville), and director of Early College High School at Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp, said she didn’t support the bill because it required monitoring of all teachers.
She said she would prefer to address the actions of individual “bad actors.”
Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly opposed the bill.
DeLaney questioned whether Indiana students would be able to learn about the history of the Civil War or the Klu Klux Klan in the state.
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“Let’s get it out on the table what we’re afraid of. We’re afraid of change,” DeLaney said. “We don’t want our kids to be woke. We want them to be asleep. That’s what this bill proposes.”
“HB 1134 tells students that if you disagree with something, if it challenges your positions, if it conflicts with your preconceived notions of the world, you don’t need to debate or discuss it,” said. Rep. Blake Johnson (D-Indianapolis). “If there is anything in the marketplace of ideas that you don’t like, you don’t have to just disagree. You can pretend it doesn’t exist at all.”