House Bill 1134, authored by Rep. Anthony Cook, R-Cicero, is a sister bill to Senate Bill 167, which recently made national news for comment by Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, about teachers remaining impartial on Nazism. Despite lingering concerns from educators and legislators regarding the bill’s broad wording and it including colleges and universities, it was amended and moved on from the House Education Committee Wednesday.
Seemingly responding to the controversy, Cook presented an amendment Wednesday that included specifically allowing educators to teach about Nazism and assert that it is bad.
The bill passed 8-5 along party lines with the exception of Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany. Clere did not state why he voted against the bill.
The bill passed with several amendments, which passed 9-4 along party lines. These included a list of “good citizenship instructions,” according to Cook.
“Teachers must emphasize ideals and values of the U.S. Constitution and Western political thought compared to other forms of government that conflict with founding principles of the United States, individual rights, freedom and political suffrage, the economic and political institutions that have been best contributing to society,” Cook said.
Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, asked if an amendment would allow educators to teach students that racism is wrong because the Constitution says “all men are created equal.”
Cook said it would not, but teaching about historical events and facts can allow students to form their own opinions.
Smith was also concerned that if a student used a racial slur in a classroom setting, the bill would prohibit a teacher from explaining to the student why they should not do that.
“It says that any individual should [not] feel discomfort, guilt, anger, anguish, responsibility or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, and it goes on,” Smith said. “All of those areas will probably be part of that disciplinary situation. You don’t get change until there’s either internal agitation or dissatisfaction, and you will have to deal with that situation.”
Effect On Colleges And Universities
As drafted, the bill would not only affect Indiana K-12 schools and college-level teacher preparatory programs but any entities considered state agencies, including colleges and universities.
Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, took issue with this part of the bill. Cook said he has concerns too and would address the issue at another time, but he does not plan on removing colleges and universities from the bill.
Delaney also continued to advocate for the removal of the word “include” in the phrase “include or promote” regarding the eight ideas based on sex, race, ethnicity, origin, and other unchangeable characteristics.
Joel Hand, general counsel for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, spoke in opposition of the bill partially for this reason.
“My understanding, having read the bill and talked with representatives here on this committee, would seem that if it includes any of these concepts, that it would prohibit a teacher from talking about it whatsoever within their curriculum, which we think is detrimental,” Hand said.
Hand used the example of speech classes or debate teams, where students may be asked to debate the concepts discussed in the bill. He said he hopes for an amendment that would exempt these types of activities.
Smith also said the legislation, given that it affects Indiana colleges and universities, is hypocritical because it contradicts legislation passed the last session meant to protect free speech on college campuses.
Amendments Address Some Concerns
Prior to amending the bill, the committee heard more testimony continuing from the five-hour round of testimony Monday.
An amendment would remove the requirement for teachers to post specific lesson plans and address some specifics of the curriculum advisory committee. It would require members of the committee to serve four-year terms and be made up of 60% parents but with no more than 50% of the committee being school employees.
Addressing concerns that there was no statute of limitations for filing a complaint against a teacher for violating the bill, an amendment requires complaints to be reported within 30 business days. It would also require the violation to be considered willful or wanton.
After testimony from a representative of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, an amendment included a reference to the Indiana law that only allows for licensed or credentialed individuals to give mental health services to students. This was added to the section requiring parents to opt students in for recurring mental health services at schools.
School boards would also have to approve which classes and lessons students can opt-out of, in an attempt to address concerns by educators that students and parents may choose to opt out of important, required material.
Delaney said the amendments made to the bill did improve it, but he still cannot support it.
“I think it’s a definite improvement, but it just adds more weight and complexity to a bill that should be consigned to oblivion,” DeLaney said.
The bill will now move on to the full House, with a Senate committee vote still to come on the sister bill Senate Bill 167.