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'A racist bill': Teachers, civil rights leaders push back against school bill

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Posted at 9:54 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 07:50:01-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Civil rights and faith leaders joined educators and parents Wednesday at the Indiana State House in opposition over House Bill 1134.

Supports argue the bill brings transparency to the classroom, while teachers say it will lead to censorship.

Dangerous, toxic and racist were three ways the group speaking at a press conference hosted by the Indiana State Teachers Association described the education legislation.

“We've come because House Bill 1134 is a dangerous bill and let's call it what it is. It's a racist bill,” Dr. Ivan Hicks with the Indianapolis NAACP said.

The bill would stop educators from teaching materials where students may feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish, responsibility or any form of psychological distress.” Parents could also opt their students out of certain lessons and would open the door for families to sue schools and teachers over what they feel is inappropriate lesson material. All materials would need to be vetted through a curriculum review committee.

For several weeks the ISTA, parents, teachers and others have spoken against the education legislation.

“I don’t think that white children should be called oppressors; I don’t think Black children should be called oppressed. I want my child to understand how racism has impacted Black people who have come before him,” Marshawn Wolley said. He is the Director of Public Policy for African American Coalition and Policy Advisor for Urban League and Indianapolis Black Expo, but most importantly holds the title of dad.

Wolley’s 9-year-old son, Alexander, is a student in Pike Township.

“HB 1134 is unethical to really everything that I’m trying to do with him as far as trying to understand cultural differences. Not only his history, but history that is different than him,” Wolley said.

At Wednesday’s press conference, leaders from the NAACP, Indianapolis Public Library and the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis — among others — collectively spoke on the harm, they believe, the bill would have not only on minority students, but all students.

Last week a similar bill in the Senate, SB 167, died. While educators and leaders Wednesday acknowledged that was a “win” for them, they agree the fight against HB 1134 will not stop as long as it has the potential to become law.

“I want to make sure that you know advocates and teachers and educators continue the momentum that we've seen so far because you never know what could happen. You know, the language from 167 could be reinserted until 1134. It couldn't be reinserted into another bill. So we really need to make sure that this momentum continues,” Sarah Williams with the Marion County Commission on Youth said.

Speakers also hit home their feelings when it comes to the future of teachers. Several at the press conference discussed its negative impact on the profession, especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining minority educators.

When asked if any version of HB 1134 could pass, Dr. Hicks quickly said “no.”

“This is a heinous bill. It is a racist bill, a bill that seeks to divide [and] does not bring us together as a community. And so the answer to that question is no,” Dr. Hicks said.

But supporters believe HB 1134 will create transparency in the classroom and afford parents more say in their child’s curriculum.

“Facts are different than theory and that’s where I’m going with this. Teach the facts. The facts will talk to students,” Representative Tony Cook, R-Cicero, said last week during the Education Committee hearing. “What we’re trying to caution against is bringing in my own feelings and imposing or promoting those to students.”

Cook is the bill’s author. On Wednesday, WRTV reached out to Cook and the bill’s co-authors for comment on the latest public pushback. No one was made available to speak with us before deadline. WRTV was told Cook was unavailable due to an ongoing family emergency.

HB 1134 is slated for a second reading in the House on Thursday.