Legislators discuss controversial House Bill 1134 during chamber breakfast

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Indiana legislators spoke on both sides of controversial House Bill 1134, with audience members posing several questions at the monthly legislative breakfast at The Bridgewater Club in Westfield Feb. 11.

Legislative breakfasts are presented by the Hamilton County chambers of commerce.

Indiana House District 32 Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) said HB 1134, which he authored, has gone through 24 iterations. During that time, Cook said much of the burden on teachers being required to list curriculum materials before the school year starts has been relaxed.

HB 1134 states that a school district “may not promote certain concepts as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or direct or otherwise compel a school employee or student to adhere to certain tenets relating to the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.” It also states that a school district cannot require an 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.

The bill also states that, although with certain exceptions, before a school district can “provide or administer certain mental, social-emotional, or psychological services to a student, the school must provide the parent of the student or the student, if the student is an adult or an emancipated minor, with a written request for consent to provide or administer certain mental, social-emotional, or psychological services.”

“Lots of schools have learning programs like Canvas and others that allow materials to be directly linked to the parent, and that would suffice and meet the letter of this law,” Cook said.

However, he said the bill creates more transparency between concerned parents and school districts.

“When social-emotional learning aspects come into play, there are stories and depictions that have been used in relation to social agendas (by teachers) that has brought out a lot of parental concern when a child has come home and shared those materials,” Cook said. “We were trying to do a happy medium, which is the truly only reason I took the bill.”

Cook said the House had up to eight other bills proposed that addressed critical race theory, which some parents claim local school districts are teaching. However, many Hamilton County school districts have said critical race theory is not part of their curriculum.

“Some (bills) were a lot harsher and a lot more penalizing,” Cook said. “I was trying to bring the community back together, and that’s truly why I took the bill as a former educator. It was to get a balance and mix between parental inputs and the school community.”

The 54-page bill is receiving pushback from teachers and parents who are concerned certain aspects of history couldn’t be taught, such as certain history involving race. Noblesville Schools Supt. Beth Niedermeyer spoke against the bill at the breakfast.

“I want to tell you what is already happening in schools today because of this bill,” Niedermeyer said. “Teachers are fearful to teach what they are required to teach in the state of Indiana, so I think that’s an unintended consequence of this bill. Our curriculum team studied the 71 U.S. history standards, and if this bill passes, 21 of those will not be able to be taught because of misinterpretation that some parent groups have about what these standards actually are.

“I really think this bill needs to go back to committee this summer and do a deep dive. I really think this bill needs to be killed.”

State Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) said many constituents, even Republicans, have asked him to fight to kill the bill. Ford said the bill was written because legislators were hearing from a “very vocal minority group of parents” called Unify Carmel. Ford said he expects the statewide need for teachers to drastically increase if the bill is passed because many current teachers oppose it.

State Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) also opposed the bill.

State Sen. Kyle Walker (R-Lawrence), State Rep. Donna Schaibley (R-Carmel) and Cook encouraged attendees to carefully read the bill.

To read the latest version of the bill, visit http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2022/bills/house/1134#document-7671e6e6

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