Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signaled support Wednesday for contentious proposals moving through the Legislature that would ban transgender girls from participating in K-12 girls school sports and place restrictions on teaching about racism and political issues.
The Republican governor told reporters that he was waiting to see the final versions of those bills, although the GOP-dominated state Senate could vote as soon as Thursday on sending the transgender sports bill to his desk to sign into law or veto.
Holcomb did point to the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which has a policy covering transgender students wanting to play sports that match their gender identity and has said it has had no transgender girls finalize a request to play on girls team.
“I agree, adamantly, that boys should be playing boys sports and girls should be playing girls sports, and mixed sports should be just that,” Holcomb said, referring to a person's sex at birth. “So how we craft the actual language and support organizations like the IHSAA, who’s done an admirable job to date, we need to make sure that they can continue to do just that.”
If Holcomb signs the bill into law, Indiana would be at least the 11th Republican-led state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls in sports. Some other GOP-led states are also considering such bans.
Holcomb has avoided taking a public stance on the other major education bill that Republican supporters say would increase transparency about what is being taught in classrooms and that opponents say would be used to censor teachers and force them to do unnecessary extra work. He said Wednesday that he was still considering the proposal.
The Senate education committee voted Wednesday to advance the bill, which it rolled back last week following weeks of intense criticism from teachers and public schools advocates. The proposal now heads to the full Senate.
“I think the bill where it is now is a vast improvement from where it started, with the emphasis, rightly so, on transparency and parental engagement, and so anything that encourages parental engagement in the education of their students in our state’s future is a good thing,” Holcomb said. “However, I will be watching every word.”
An amendment adopted Wednesday made minor changes to the bill, including an addition to a “good citizenship” clause that would allow teachers to condemn historical injustices such as slavery and the Nazis, which they had been concerned they wouldn't be allowed to do.
The Senate education committee rejected half a dozen other amendments offered by Democrats. They included proposals to send the curriculum transparency issue to a special study committee that would meet after this year’s session ends.
The Indiana State Teachers Association, the largest teachers union in the state, remains opposed to the amended bill.
“The foundations of this bill remain grounded on a false narrative that teachers can’t be trusted," ISTA President Keith Gambill said in a statement.
The current version of the bill would ensure that parents have access to their child's 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 their school board to adopt a parent committee to review curriculum, though it would not be required.
The bill would also allow parents to appeal to the Indiana Department of Education to take administrative action for a violation if they remain unsatisfied after following their child's school’s grievance process.
The bill further stipulates that schools would be barred from teaching that one group is inherently superior or inferior to another, that one group should be treated adversely or preferentially, and that individuals, by virtue of their traits, “are inherently responsible” for the past actions of others who share their traits. Supporters say that means teachers could teach about slavery but not that white people should feel bad about slavery, for example.
Despite calls from teachers and mental health advocates to amend components of the bill that would limit social-emotional learning services provided to students, a provision added to the bill Wednesday only requests that a special study committee make recommendations for mental, social-emotional and psychological services in schools.
Sen. Linda Rogers, a Republican from Granger who sponsored the bill, said that decision is a reflection of her “many, many conversations with constituents, parents, educators, and those that are working in the mental health field.”
Casey Smith is a corps member for 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 undercovered issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.