Indiana Republican lawmakers want parents to review school curriculum

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In the wake of contentious school board meetings throughout Indiana over critical race theory, leading Republican lawmakers said they will propose allowing parents to have more of a say in what their children are taught in schools.

Critical race theory has migrated from a little-known academic framework, which examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism, into a political touchstone for Republicans nationwide. It has animated debate about how schools teach about the role of race in this country.

Indiana Republicans are drafting multiple education bills for the 2022 legislative session in response to these controversies, without mentioning critical race theory by name.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said at a legislative conference Wednesday that they do not believe critical race theory, or CRT, is being taught in Indiana’s K-12 schools.

“CRT is not part of our state standards,” Holcomb told reporters. “If critical race theory is being taught in the classroom in our K-12 system, it’s counter to the standards, and the local school and parents need to hold those folks who are responsible accountable.”

Still, House education leader Bob Behning said the next legislative session, which starts in January, will include a bill inspired by the critical race theory controversy that focuses on “transparency.” He suggested requiring districts to form “curriculum control committees,” groups of parents, community members, and educators who would review curriculum, classroom materials, or library books and advise school leaders to change aspects they disagree with.

Every public school district would be required to create an advisory curriculum committee, composed of 40% parents, 20% members of the public, and 40% educators, Behning said. Each committee would be required to meet at least twice a year. Recommendations from the committees would not become binding without approval from school boards.

Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, said past statutes have allowed districts to create similar committees to review curriculum, but have expired.

“We had situations in Carmel where parents were reading [aloud] books in their school board meetings that had some obscene language in it,” Behning said. “Board members were offended, but parents were like, ‘Well, this is what my kids are having access to.’”

But Democrats voiced concerns about the soon-to-be-proposed legislation. Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor said that under the guise of transparency, the law would allow parents ways to prevent their children from learning about race at all.

“We know we have to have open dialogue about the history of this country,” Taylor said. “All that critical race theory is saying is that, ‘Hey, we tried that color-blind thing for a long time, a very long time; it’s not working. So let’s consciously infuse race into the curriculum, and hopefully that will lead to a better outcome for everybody.’”

Also in response to contentious school board meetings, Republicans are drafting a bill that could reshape school boards, which are currently formed through nonpartisan elections. Behning said his colleagues are considering a bill that would allow school board members or candidates to choose whether to reveal their political affiliation.

They may also “tighten up” the public comment procedures at school board meetings. Public comment sessions have become more heated in multiple Indiana districts in the past year, often because of critical race theory debates.

He also mentioned legislation that would create a procedure to discipline teachers who promote certain theories in the classroom, though he said promotion is not an issue with most teachers, and it is unclear what would be considered promotion and how teachers would be monitored, reported, or disciplined.

Schools have recently grappled with controversies over whether displaying Black Lives Matter signs or LGBT pride flags in classrooms could be considered promoting political ideologies.

“The overwhelming majority of teachers do not try to promote one theory over another,” Behning said. “I believe kids also need to understand authoritarian, totalitarian, Marxism to a degree, but definitely no promotion of that. So there will be some language dealing with promotion.”

Republicans and Democrats agreed about many aspects of the CRT debate during a Wednesday afternoon session at the conference. Taylor and Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray both agreed CRT should not be taught in K-12 schools. They also agreed that teaching more about different cultures in K-12 classrooms would benefit all students, regardless of their race.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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26 thoughts on “Indiana Republican lawmakers want parents to review school curriculum

  1. Making our school boards function more like your local HOA is just what we need to more education forward in Indiana.

    Then again, when a retired florist is the largest voice in education in the state of Indiana, it’s not all that surprising…

    And the next time someone comes on here and talks about the need for unity, or less divisiveness, just remember that it’s Indiana Republicans who are deciding to make school board elections partisan.

    1. Joe, the only one’s calling for “unity” is you Democrats, which is just code for “do things our way”. Democrats have no problem with parents being involved with the school as long as the narrative is “poor teachers! We need more money!” But when it strays from your agenda, all of a sudden Parents Bad!

    2. Chuck, explain what my agenda is.

      Explain to me why upset parents can’t get elected to the school board to get involved. If they think more frequent school board elections would help, make that change.

      If the problem with education is that there’s too many levels of administration and government involvement, how does yet another committee help with that? It sure seems to me that the more involved politicians have gotten with the education system in Indiana, the worse the outcomes have been.

      How does involving political party affiliation matter in a school board race, other than making it easier for some candidates get elected straight ticket voting? If you can’t bother to do basic research on which school board members to support based on their platforms, maybe you shouldn’t bother to vote in the school board race.

    3. The irony of the party comments is that it does seem to be republicans pushing for this. School curriculum is driven by state standards, and Indiana has been republican for…. a long time. As such, the republican party has had control of the state standards. The state also controls a large part of the budget for schools. Again, republican. It’s ironic that the problems are said to be from democratic agendas, when it is the republican party that has had the most control.

      As such, I too would like to know what this agenda is that Chuck W. is referring to. I hear it a lot, along with indoctrination.

      The one thing about our schools board is that they are supposed to focus on all kids – every. single. one. Not just the ids with republican parents or democrat parents, but all of them. Pushing party affiliation equates to pushing agendas – agendas that don’t necessarily align with solutions for all kids – every. single. one. Our politicians are playing politics with our schools – and our kids. The average teacher is not the problem.

  2. Yes and no on this. Sadly, political party affiliation is a fairly accurate indicator of a person’s “orientation” toward culture. Sure, there are a few pro-life Democrats, just as there are undoubtedly a few Republican atheists, but the numbers of each are insignificant. For Democrats, the answer to just about eveything is more money, fiscal responsibility be damned if a union has their foot in the door, not to mention an attitude that parents and others should just shut up and let them run (and, subsequently, generally ruin) everything.

    1. As Brad pointed out, Republicans control the funding and the educational standards in this state. Republicans implemented common core standards in Indiana and then loudly backed out of common core … and replaced it with something that, to this observer, was common core by another name.

      Republicans would rather you focus on issues like CRT instead of the fact that Indiana schools aren’t preparing kids for the future. We don’t have a workforce that can do the high tech jobs of the future, and little wonder all the kids who do have those skills flee and go elsewhere. Why is that the case? Obviously, it’s the teachers union fault. 🙄

      Another thing … if you don’t like the job your local school is doing, you can send your child to another school. Heck, you can send them to a private school. What’s the chances that all those private schools getting fat on the government dole, teaching whatever they want with absolutely no oversight attached to the money they’re given by Indiana taxpayers, are going to be asked to create curriculum control committees?

  3. Republicans have been in charge for generations in Indiana, why did they let curriculums get so out of hand? Or is this just another solution in search of a problem?

  4. It seems to me the recent push for party labels is an outgrowth of frustration w the masking policies of board members and fear of CRT teaching, in an attempt to provide some vetting, and party pressure, depending on the county.

    Injecting political party forces would seem to heighten discord, as it would be easier to label people vs understand the actual local candidates and their nuanced positions. George Washington’s warning against the dangers of factionalism in political parties seems wise – and not just on a federal level.

    Hopefully this just primary red meat for some legislators, that the pragmatic leaders of the statehouse will downplay.

  5. You have to dig deeper than to just blame our state politicians for things like ‘DEI’ and ‘social and emotional learning’ becoming incorporated into the curriculum. The article below on the NSBA is just the tip of the iceberg in my opinion.

    Trainings (by so-called experts) on race, equity, ‘privilege’, etc do more to divide us than to unite us. The NSBA has promoted teachings that taint the minds of our young children. It’s happening in the corporate world too with DEI trainings. Equality does not equal equity.

    Focus on speaking what is true and what is good will prevail!

    1. Yes, because being on a school board means that it’s open season for people to scream and threaten them and refuse to follow requests like wearing masks. Because school boards members aren’t people and have it coming because they’re so evil?

    2. No it’s time for people to “wake up” (the irony of it) to the underlying framework of DEI, social and emotional learning, and diversity trainings.

      The basis of these teachings devalues the importance of excellence and competence, and creates room for discriminatory policies on the basis of meeting “diversity” quotas.

    3. I’ve been through these classes for 20 years and would disagree with that assessment of them. Of course I also accept that by being a upper middle class white male student I had a boatload more opportunities than most others, so you probably all think I’m hopelessly woke already.

      Maybe more helpful than the classes was just going to school some place where not everyone looked like me and came from the same background as me, living life and going through that educational journey with others with different skin colors and perspectives.

      That’s the power of public schools and something I think is being lost with the rush to enable everyone to take their tax dollars to their little walled garden of private schools because their kids might be scarred for life if they learn some ugly historical facts.

      IMO, it’s helpful to learn about things in history that might be uncomfortable to you but are accepted to others. I went to 12 years of private school in the Indianapolis area and never learned about the Tulsa race riots until I was in my 40’s I never learned about the Tuskegee experiments in a classroom it was when someone told me about them. In retrospect, that’s crazy.

    4. Donnie W. – You cannot deny that American history has largely white-washed (no pun intended) the minority experience here. I do not know if racism is “systemic,” but for decades blacks were legally discriminated against by government (aka “the system”) in education, employment, lending, and housing. Decades upon decades of such treatment has resulted in a culture of poverty in the black community. If you disagree, might I ask: do you ever wish you had been born black? And if not, why not?

    5. Brent B – that thought has never crossed my mind because I believe my identity lies, not in the color of my skin, but in my unique personality, my values, my upbringing, and the unique challenges I’ve faced throughout my life.

      The color of my skin doesn’t make me who I am.

      The color of skin is not why I have had to overcome challenges in life or enjoyed certain moments throughout.

  6. An accurate and thoroughly telling of history–as it actually was and is–seems to me to be what the fundamental premise and execution of education is and should be.

    To select the storyline of what a right or left wing group wants to tell, omitting what one choses, is not education. Rather it is indoctrination.

    Parents have a role. That’s why there is a school board. Those boards should be listening to educators, past and present, what the curriculum should be composed of.

    Again, eliminating any component of history because it may be uncomfortable to some, is not an accurate or thorough telling of history.

  7. Legislating that people not trained in education should set educational standards is ludicrous. Then, those same people get to decide what books are in the library available to students. How about we close the loop by publicly burning those books not included. Sound familiar to anyone?

    1. Right, Heather T; parents should not act as gatekeepers for what children see and read; better the kids be left to wander in the intellectual wilderness than be raised by people who have lived long enough to understand how the wheels turn in the real world, eh? What other parental parental responsibilities should they be relieved of?

    2. Bob, you’re the one pushing for more unwanted pregnancies brought to term in this state. What are you expecting, parents to suddenly start being responsible after hundreds of years of experience that people frequently bail on kids they don’t want and leave them to be raised by either a single parent or the state?

      If you don’t want so many kids who are the results of unintended pregnancies, you don’t even have to advocate for abortion, just push for more sex education and more access to contraception. Less unintended pregnancies means less kids that have to be raised and fed by the school system.

      Heck, push for a series of boarding schools where kids can go get a strong education surrounded by positive role models. Just something, anything, that shows you care about kids after they’re born.

      But that would cost money, and last time I checked, Indiana Republicans were looking to spend less, not more. So I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

  8. “We had situations in Carmel where parents were reading [aloud] books in their school board meetings that had some obscene language in it,” Behning said. “Board members were offended, but parents were like, ‘Well, this is what my kids are having access to.’”

    That’s funny! Needed that laugh today so mega thanks to Carmel School Board for a little levity.

  9. I believe parents should have something to say when lude books and CRT is promoting marxism in the curriculum. My property taxes increased by 40% and they have BLM teaching CRT in the classrooms. Please give me a break! This is not acceptable.

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