Indiana Senate abandons contentious school curriculum bill
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Senate will not consider contentious Republican-backed legislation that supporters say would have increased parental control over what their kids learn but that teachers and other critics say would have amounted to censorship, a top lawmaker said Friday.
Members of the Republican-led Legislature worked on the bill this week, 'but have determined there is no path forward for it and it will not be considered,' Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said in a statement.
The legislation would have required all school curricula to be posted online for parental review and would have banned schools' ability to teach concepts such as critical race theory, which has become a catch-all term for the idea that racism is systemic in the nation's institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
The House is slated to consider a similar bill next week that would require classroom materials to be posted online and vetted by parent review committees, as well as place restrictions on teaching about racism and political topics.
Bray said Tuesday that legislators needed additional time to work on language in the Senate bill sponsored by Republican. Sen. Scott Baldwin of Noblesville, who drew widespread condemnation last week when he said in reference to the legislation that teachers must be 'impartial' when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies.
Baldwin later walked back his comments, saying he meant to say he 'unequivocally' condemns Nazism, fascism and Marxism, and that he agrees that teachers 'should condemn those dangerous ideologies.' He was absent from Senate proceedings Wednesday due to COVID-19 exposure, Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz said ahead of the education committee's meeting.
Baldwin, who is white, has maintained that his intent was to prevent certain 'discriminatory concepts' from being taught in classrooms.
That would have included prohibiting K-12 schools from requiring a student or employee to 'engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of racial or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.' Teachers would also not be allowed to 'include or promote' such concepts as part of their curriculum.
The bill did not explicitly reference critical race theory. Instead, it stated that schools couldn't teach 'that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress' on account of what Baldwin called 'the eight specific divisive concepts' outlined in the bill.
'I'm glad that Senate Republicans listened to our well-trained and experienced teachers who testified about the damaging consequences of this bill,' Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor, of Indianapolis, said in a statement Friday. 'Indiana's classrooms should be a place where students can learn about facts and history without censorship.'
The House bill with similar language could be voted on by the full House next week. It's one of three 'education matters' bills proposed by conservative lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly in the current legislative session.
Molly Fishell, a Senate Republican spokeswoman said senators would review the House's similar bill 'when and if" the House passes it.
Republican Rep. Tony Cook of Cicero, who authored the House bill, emphasized that amendments to the legislation adopted on Wednesday in response to teachers' concerns would ensure that educators could still discuss 'social injustices' and that 'schools can and should teach that Nazism is bad.'
Rep. Ed Delaney, an Indianapolis Democrat who is on the House education committee, said in a statement that members of the House continue to work on that bill, 'but should agree there is no path forward and bury it.'
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.