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School bills would make teachers 'guard every single word' in classroom, union leader says

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Posted at 1:24 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 19:25:49-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The union representing Indiana’s teachers has come out against two controversial bills that Republicans say would increase transparency around school curricula.

Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said Tuesday that educators are concerned about the additional burdens and responsibilities Senate Bill 167 and House Bill 1134 would place upon them. The union posted a petition to its website asking Hoosiers to oppose the two bills.

The nearly identical bills would require teachers to post school curricula online to be vetted by parent review committees. They would also ban schools from implementing concepts like critical race theory, which examines the role of systemic racism in American society and is not taught in K-12 schools, but has become a catch-all phrase for topics dealing in race.

The bills would also allow parents to issue objections about lesson plans, which would then require teachers to create individualized lessons for students. Gambill said how and why objections could be made is not spelled out.

Gambill told WRTV that teachers worry, especially at the high school level, about having to “guard every single word that they say” while teaching classes such as social studies and those that cover current events.

“I think it's important to recognize that our educators are doing all they can to make for meaningful lessons as outlined for us in our state standards,” Gambill said.

During Monday’s testimony on HB1134 at the Statehouse, Scott Miller, superintendent for the School City of Hammond, said addressing “sensitive topics” in the classroom helps students learn how to evaluate the truth.

Miller added 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,” Miller said, according to the Associated Press.

Gambill said the near- and long-term effects of bills such as SB167 and HB1134 would include fewer teachers entering the profession.

“Indiana has many avenues to get into the teaching profession, but folks just aren't taking the state up on that offer,” Gambill said. “And we have to recognize that a great deal of that has to do with this additional burden that the state continues to place on educators.”

HB1134 is scheduled for a vote Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, the bill’s author and a former teacher and school superintendent, said during testimony that the goal of the legislation is to ensure educators “remain impartial in teaching curriculum” and “ensure that students are free to express their own believes and viewpoints concerning curricular materials and educational activities without discrimination.”

Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, a co-author of SB167, drew nationwide controversy last week when he responded to a teacher by saying educators must be “impartial” when discussing topics such as Nazism, fascism and other political ideologies. He has since walked back those statements and apologized.

Another education bill, House Bill 140, would require students be taught that concepts such as “socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems are incompatible with and in conflict with the principles of freedom upon which the United States was founded.”

The legislation authored by Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, would also allow parents to opt students out of face mask or vaccine requirements and forbid schools from requiring students be vaccinated against COVID-19 or any other communicable disease.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.