The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 27, 2022 1:00 am

General Assembly

House passes curriculum bill; heads to Senate

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Parents would be more involved with the curriculum process and teachers would have to choose their words wisely on controversial topics under a bill passed 60-37 by the Indiana House on Wednesday evening.

House Bill 1134 was spurred by the national debate over critical race theory and attempts to bring transparency to the process while also delineating divisive concepts that teachers and staff must avoid.

It now moves to the Senate where its future is murky at best. That chamber killed a bill with similar language this year after it received national headlines. 

“It is my fervent hope that the established parameters of this bill will close the conflicting divide that has developed in many communities around the state between the school and their parents over curricular materials and the methodologies used to implement them,” said Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero. “And I hope this bill will help establish a more congenial, trusting and supportive atmosphere in the many communities that are struggling at this time.”

Cook is the author of the bill and has been a teacher, principal and superintendent.

The bill establishes curriculum advisory committees that have parental representation and also requires schools starting in 2023 to post curricular materials and educational activities on a portal that parents can access. This would include a syllabus, assigned books and more.

But the provision of the bill getting the most attention sets out eight divisive concepts teachers must avoid.

For instance, a teacher or school can't instruct that a person is either superior or inferior due to their race, religion, political affiliation and more. A second example to avoid is saying an individual's moral character is determined by a person's sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.

But many opposed to the legislation say these limitations will make it hard to have tough open discussions about racism and other uncomfortable topics in the classroom. The bill also allows schools to be sued for alleged violations.

“This bill will fundamentally change the way we teach and interact with our students,” said Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute. She has taught for 28 years. “Students are not fragile. They want to learn and they want their teacher to be honest about the uncomfortable truths of the past and the present.”

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, was one of nine Republicans to vote against the bill along with the entire Democratic caucus.

She is a school principal and said she agrees with 99% of the bill but couldn't get over the 1%.

McNamara said she struggles “with the premise in this bill that all teachers somehow have to be monitored” as bad actors. She said the vast majority of teachers are doing nothing wrong. 

Fort Wayne Democrat Rep. Phil GiaQuinta said if you are for less government and bloated bureaucracy you should vote no. And if you are against more lawsuits that waste taxpayer dollars you should vote no.

But his biggest concern is the bill will “stifle the exchange of ideas.”

Area lawmakers voting yes: Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City; Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne; Rep. Dave Heine, R-Fort Wayne; Rep. Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne; Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne; Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington; Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne; Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn; Rep. Craig Snow, R-Warsaw; and Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola.

Those who voted no were GiaQuinta and Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford.

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