Black Caucus, Others Decry Thursday’s Angry Clash Over School Bill
By Alexa Shrake
INDIANAPOLIS—Following Thursday’s events in the House session, several Hoosier political leaders released statements on how they felt about the derogatory language and behavior aimed at Black lawmakers attempting to discuss House Bill 1367.
House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, started the second half of the session on Thursday saying that being in the Indiana Conference Center rather than the House chamber played into how legislators acted and that part of that is on him.
“Each of us are unique, each of us have our own experiences, each of us have the privilege of representing 70,000 people,” Huston said.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said in a statement on Friday, “Being disrespectful in any place, but especially on the House floor, is absolutely unacceptable. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard heckling from the back of the room, and I will not stand for this type of behavior.”
John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said in a statement that Thursday’s events—in which GOP legislators booed and jeered at Black lawmakers who called HB 1367 racist, altercations extending to the halls outside the meeting room—did not surprise him.
“For far too long, members of the INGOP have governed with an aura of invincibility and as if they are free from any sort of accountability for being inappropriate and unprofessional toward other Hoosiers. They are mistaken,” said Zody.
“If the INGOP was truly invested in diversifying its party, then they would condemn the actions from its House Caucus because silencing the voices of Indiana’s Black elected leaders amounts to nothing else but racism.”
HB 1367, authored by Rep. Jake Teshka, R-South Bend, wants to create a two-year pilot program for John Glenn School Corporation, which has a majority of white students, to disannex from South Bend Community School Corporation, which has a majority of non-white students.
The bill moved to the Senate after a 53-42 vote in which 14 Republicans joined Democrats in voting against it. It is sponsored by Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-La Porte, Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, and Sen. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend.
Teshka said his bill was not based on race but rather on other issues like transportation for students and putting them closer to their homes.
This bill is not the first time legislators have tried to disannex school districts.
In 2019, the Senate passed a bill that allowed Green Township to join John Glenn School Corporation, but it never went past the House.
Niezgodski said John Glenn School Corporation has an agriculture program that many students are interested in and a lot of students are already attending John Glenn schools due to transportation issues.
“I think truly everyone wants what they believe is right for the children,” Niezgodski said. “I believe that is what this does.”
Greene Township trustee Sandra Ort told The South Bend Tribune she was happy the local issue reached the General Assembly. “It’s been a lot of hard work trying to get the state and everyone to understand what the situation is here,” she said. “It’s not a racial issue, it’s an education issue.”
In a written statement to The South Bend Tribune, South Bend Superintendent Todd Cummings said he is upset about the House moving forward with the bill.
“I’m deeply disappointed in this decision and deeply disappointed for our students and for our schools,” Cummings told the Tribune. “I don’t believe education policy should be made at the township level, particularly policy that will negatively impact our desegregation efforts and set a harmful precedent for urban school districts across the state.
Moving forward, Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, said she suggested to Huston that legislators need mandatory implicit bias and racism training, which Huston said Thursday he was interested in having a conversation about.
“The two leaders are going to have to be more aggressive in making sure the membership remains professional and respectful, and they’re going to have to do it in an aggressive manner,” Shackleford said.
Said Niezgodski, a Senate sponsor of the bill, “These things did not need to take place. … We always should do everything in our power to strive for the decorum of civility.”
Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, who was said to have engaged in a bathroom altercation Thursday, refused comment Friday. Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, who left the chamber in protest Thursday while lawmakers were speaking, and Rep. Mike Bohacek, another Senate sponsor of the bill, could not be reached Friday.
Alexa Shrake is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.