December 29, 2021

Will Indiana ban talking about racism in K-12 schools? Here's what top lawmakers say


The upcoming legislative session begins the first week of January, and is scheduled to end mid-March. - (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

The upcoming legislative session begins the first week of January, and is scheduled to end mid-March.

(Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Indiana lawmakers are preparing to handle several big education topics during the next legislative session. 

Some of the hot-button issues talked about at some school board meetings lately have caught state lawmakers' attention – critical race theory included. 

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said he's seen evidence of it being talked about more among Hoosier schools and educators, but that banning certain words or phrases won't make for good legislation. 

"I don't think you'd do very well if you wrote a bill that says you can't teach CRT," Bray said.

Some states have banned words or topics in schools for their perceived connection to critical race theory – a decades-old higher education framework to help people better understand the lasting and wide-reaching effects of racism – as CRT has become the target of people at some K-12 school board meetings and politicians across the country this year.

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Instead of a ban on any specific topic, House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning said he and other legislative leaders want to improve parents' access to schools, and leave curriculum and other content decisions to local communities. 

"It's really gonna be focused on transparency and making sure parents have access to curriculum, classroom materials – things that there's been a significant number of discussions about across the state in terms of problems," he said. 

Gov. Eric Holcomb echoed a similar hope for any proposed legislation from lawmakers. He said critical race theory isn't part of Indiana's academic standards, and he'd like to see local schools and their communities handle it if it does come up.

"If critical race theory is being taught in a classroom, in our K through 12 system, it's counter to the standards, and the local school and parents need to hold those folks who are responsible, accountable," Holcomb said. 

Republicans will also consider legislation making changes to school boards and their elections, including a proposal tying school board candidates to political parties.

Some groups, including the Indiana School Boards Association, have already expressed concerns about it possibly injecting more political tension into what has traditionally been seen as a nonpartisan area of local governance. 

But school boards and curriculum matters aren't the only topics on lawmakers' minds. Behning also said he wants to revisit talks about how schools might share referendum funding with nearby charter schools, though he said it may be an issue further discussed during a budget year. 

Lawmakers will also need to address concerns from schools about how virtual attendance is calculated for this fall semester, after massive numbers of students were quarantined at the start of the school year. 

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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