February 14, 2023

Faith, education leaders warn about bill that would limit discussions on race, gender in school

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Indiana education and faith leaders, like Rev. Ivan Hicks, spoke against a Senate bill that targets discussion of race in class curricula during a press conference Tuesday – the day before lawmakers expect to hear it.  - Violet Comber-Wilen/IPB News

Indiana education and faith leaders, like Rev. Ivan Hicks, spoke against a Senate bill that targets discussion of race in class curricula during a press conference Tuesday – the day before lawmakers expect to hear it.

Violet Comber-Wilen/IPB News

Indiana education leaders spoke against a Senate bill that targets discussion of race in class curricula during a press conference Tuesday – the day before lawmakers expected to hear it. It was removed from the calendar Wednesday.

Members of the Education Equity Coalition and Indiana State Teachers Association emphasized the harm of not properly addressing racial issues in the classroom.

Senate Bill 386 would also limit teachers from “promoting certain concepts” in areas such as age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion or national origin. The legislation would create a way for parents to file a complaint with the school district over classroom instruction.

During last year's General Assembly, GOP lawmakers joined a nationwide movement of majority Republican states to introduce legislation to ban or limit the discussion of race, sex and politics in the classroom. But the legislation was killed, despite the supermajority Republicans hold in the Statehouse.

Proponents and those against similar legislation have been anticipating Wednesday’s hearing on the bill in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) is the bill’s author and the committee’s chair.

Gwen Kelley, of the Indianapolis NAACP, said adding parameters to classroom curricula can be dangerous for educators and race relations.

“This bill will be harmful at improving race relations within our state and adds unnecessary confusion and burden on our educators at all levels,” she said.

Kelley said these terms also create potential consequences for teachers, saying they may leave the profession early as they “perceive they cannot tell the truth about history.”

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Indiana Parent Teacher Association President Rachel Burke said such a law would also complicate class curricula and potentially put students behind in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. She said other states may teach issues and events regarding race that Indiana may avoid, leaving Indiana students ill-prepared for these tests.

“You can't discuss American history without discussing the Civil War, and its causes – slavery – and the fact that economics were deemed to be more important than human life and human freedom,” she said. “You can't just discuss U.S. history without discussing Jim Crow laws, and all the twists and turns that were taken to keep enslaving a race and that three constitutional amendments have been passed to stop that slavery from taking place.”

It’s unclear how the proposed bill could impact classroom instruction and requirements of Indiana’s education standards.

The Rev. Ivan Hicks of the Indianapolis Ministerium, a group of faith leaders that advocates for traditionally disenfranchised populations in Indiana, said it is important for children to understand the different challenges different cultural groups have overcome.

“It is ignorant to think that a society is going to be better when you whitewash history and teach children that nothing ever happened that has led them to be in the circumstance they are in today,” he said.

Marshawn Wolley is the policy advisor for the Indiana Black Expo. He expressed his concern for this bill and questioned why discussions about race are often considered radical.

“Why is Black history so scary to some people? Why is it a problem?” he said.

Senate Bill 386 was removed from the Senate education committee's calendar on Wednesday.

This story has been updated.

Violet is our daily news reporter. Contact her at vcomberwilen@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.

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