Lawmakers Consider Major Changes to Indiana’s Curriculum Bill

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A controversial Indiana bill Republican lawmakers say it would increase transparency of school curricula could undergo significant changes on Wednesday in response to growing criticism teachers and education advocates.

The sponsor of the Republican bill, Senator Linda Rogers of Granger, announced an amendment on Tuesday that would remove the hotly debated provisions of the bill requiring school materials to be posted online and approved by parent review committees.

Instead, Rogers’ proposal would ensure that parents have access to their school’s learning management system and allow them to review any other learning materials used in their child’s classroom upon request. Parents could ask a school board to adopt a parents’ committee to review the curriculum, although this is not required.

The amendment also removes language regarding lawsuits for violations of the bill.. It allows parents to appeal to the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) to take administrative action for a violation if they remain dissatisfied after going through the school’s grievance process.

Other provisions in the current bill that would restrict teaching about racism and politics could be deleted with the amendment.

Rather than a ban on teaching certain “divisive concepts,” Rogers proposed that schools be barred from teaching that one group is inherently superior or inferior to another, that one group should be treated unfavorably or preferential, and that individuals, by virtue of their traits, “are inherently responsible” for the past actions of other people who share their traits.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to consider Rogers’ amendment on Wednesday after the House moved the measure forward last month.

Teachers and other critics have argued that the bill, drafted by Republican Rep. Tony Cook de Cicero, would amount to “censorship” of classroom instruction and curriculum.

Educators also raised concerns about other elements of the bill that would limit the social and emotional learning (SEL) program that has been criticized by many parent groups in the state.

The IDOE defines the SEL as a process by which individuals learn how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected, and how learning to control and reframe thoughts can lead to more positive outcomes.

Three basic SEL skills — regulation, connection, and collaboration — should be taught to Indiana K-12 students, according to Department of Education employability standards. These skills center on a student’s ability to recognize and manage their emotions, network with others through social awareness and cultural sensitivity, and work well with others as part of a team.

Sarah TeKolste, a high school Spanish teacher at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, said the SEL program helps students understand their emotions and be more empathetic in interactions with their peers. She said the legislation appears to be “exacerbating an existing culture war based on misinformation” about SEL.

In Elkhart, Indiana, fifth-grade teacher Suzanne Holcomb said SEL has become “vital learning, especially with all the kids have been through with the pandemic.” She noted a “huge increase” in student outbursts and “violent” fights since in-person instruction resumed.

“I strongly believe that our children need these skills so badly, and how to get along and how to communicate, and they’ve missed them so much during their quarantine or their online learning,” Holcomb said.

But some parents argue that SEL is used to monitor students’ social and emotional health, or as a vehicle for conversations about race and gender identity.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita doubled down on opponents’ concerns, saying in his statement of parental rights that “SEL programs represent a fundamental shift in the role of teachers from educators to therapists and expand the reach of government into family areas”.

Current legislation would limit SEL by requiring schools to obtain parental permission before administering mental, social-emotional, or psychological services to a student, or before asking a student to participate in any “personal investigation, assessment, or analysis” that attempts to affect a student’s “attitude, habits, character traits, opinions or beliefs”.

Rogers’ amendment adds language stating that parental notification requirements do not apply to day-to-day interactions between school staff and students.

It also shortens the window of time that schools must wait for parent response before beginning ongoing, non-emergency mental health services for a student.

Under the amendment, schools would be required to provide parents with two separate notices, giving them the option to remove their child from services. Parents would have seven days to remove their child from the services if contacted electronically and could end the services at any time once they have started.

Parental consent would not be required for immediate emergency response.

Senate Education Committee Will Consider Bill, Even After Killing Similar Proposal in January.

The decision to abandon the measure came after Republican Senator Scott Baldwin of Noblesville said maintaining neutrality on contentious issues required teachers to be ‘impartial’ when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies.

Following much criticism, Baldwin returned to the commentssaying in a statement that it “unequivocally” condemns Nazism, Fascism and Marxism and agrees that teachers should do the same.

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Casey Smith is a member of 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 underreported issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.

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