Indiana News

Indiana Senate leader pulls bill to regulate teaching of social justice issues

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Republican senator on Friday announced he’s dropped his bills calling for regulation of how to teach social justice issues in Indiana classrooms.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville put out a news release: “Members of the Senate continued to work on Senate Bill 167, but have determined there is no path forward for it and it will not be considered.”

A spokesperson for Bray said the senator was unavailable for an interview Friday about why the bill was pulled.

“I think that there was not the appetite for legislators to work on that language because it was going to take a long time. This was a short session” of the General Assembly, set to end in March, said Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, an Indianapolis Democrat who opposed the bill.

State Rep. Tony Cook, a Cicero Republican, has not pulled his similar bill, House Bill 1134, however. The bill could be voted on by the full House as early as next week.

Another state representative, Rep. Ed Delaney, a Democrat from Indianapolis, put out this release shortly after Bray’s: “Members of the House continued to work on House Bill 1134, but should agree there is no path forward and bury it.”

The House bill, which could be voted on by the full House next week, has brought contentious hearings to the Statehouse.

In a near-party line vote Wednesday morning, the House Education Committee approved House Bill 1134. It would place limits on what topics teachers address in class and how they do so. Among other things, students could not be taught that they are responsible for past injustices committed by people who share their race, ethnicity, national origin or political affiliation, nor could they be taught concepts such as meritocracy were developed as tools of oppression.

The bill allows for the teaching of past injustices, including by groups whose goals directly contradict the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution. This last provision was added Wednesday morning following nationwide controversy over remarks by Sen. Scott Baldwin, a Republican from Noblesville, that teachers should be neutral in teaching about Nazism.

Baldwin later apologized and said he should have chosen his words differently.

The provision sparked a debate between bill sponsor Republican Rep. Tony Cook, from Cicero, and Democratic Rep. Vernon Smith, from Gary — both experienced educators — over the teaching of racism. Cook, a former high school history teacher and principal, said he always gave his students the facts about incidents such as the Tulsa Massacre, the Wounded Knee Massacre and Jim Crow laws.

“Facts is different than theory, and that’s where I’m going with this: Teach the facts. The facts will talk to the students,” Cook has said. “What we’re trying to caution against is bringing in my own feelings.”

Statements

“It’s welcome news that Senate Bill 167 is history, because it was based on culture wars that would do nothing but divide families and communities across Indiana. At the same time, nearly identical bills in the Indiana House remain, and it’s imperative that Hoosiers know that Indiana Republicans will do everything they can to use conspiracy theories and misinformation to politicize our classrooms just to influence elections. Like SB 167, these House measures must be called out and stopped because our children deserve classrooms where they can learn and thrive – not be forced to adapt to a partisan agenda from any political party.”

Lauren Ganapini, executive director of Indiana Democratic Party

“I’m glad that Senate Republicans listened to our well-trained and experienced teachers who testified about the damaging consequences of this bill,” Sen. Taylor said. “If we really want to help students, we should look at bills to address student suicide, get rid of school book fees, take COVID-19 seriously so schools can stay open and encourage critical thinking in our students. Addressing these issues are what our schools and communities need, not divisive culture wars like SB 167.

“I’m glad to see SB 167 stopped, and I hope that bills like it, such as House Bill 1134, are also blocked from advancing. Indiana’s classrooms should be a place where students can learn about facts and history without censorship. My caucus will continue to stand with our teachers and students in opposition to bringing partisanship and misinformation into our classrooms.”

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, an Indianapolis Democrat

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