CLARK COUNTY, Ind. — A controversial Indiana school bill made its way to a state Senate committee Tuesday.
Lawmakers referred House Bill 1134 to committee after it passed the Indiana House in late January. Sixty representatives voted in favor and 37 were opposed.
HB1134 would require more oversight of lesson plans and curriculums in Indiana public schools.
“I ask that you truly read the bill and what it says and don’t exaggerate or fantasize what it says," Rep. Tony Cook (R-District 32) said during floor discussion in January.
Cook is one of the bill's sponsors and said parents should have input over what is taught. He added that he's heard from constituents saying exactly that and the bill would bridge divides in Hoosier communities.
“It is my fervent hope that the established parameters of this bill will close the conflicting divide that has developed in many communities around this state," Cook said in January.
Other people, like Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill, oppose the move and said it would be harmful to public education in Indiana.
"We have educators in complete fear of what any of this would be," Gambill said.
The bill would require schools to post lesson plans in an online portal, allow families to opt-in or out of certain educational activities and require schools to form curricular advisory committees with both parents and educators.
Cook said those committees would need to be made up of 60% parents and 40% teachers.
Pam McCoy, a teacher of more than 20 years in Greater Clark County, said the bill would prevent her from effectively doing her job.
She started collecting letters from teachers, parents and community members to bring to lawmakers. McCoy hopes to convince them HB1134 is the wrong idea.
"I've already got a whole folder full," she said. "All of these letters are like 'let us do our jobs.' The ones that aren't, say 'let teachers do their jobs.'"
As a special education and government teacher, McCoy is concerned about parts of the bill governing content.
One portion, for example, prevents teaching "that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual's sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation."
The bill's sponsors said it would not prevent the teaching of history.
McCoy said some of the provisions would prevent classroom discussions that help students develop.
"I feel like it's up to the student to figure out where they stand, I teach seniors. They're about to go out into the world," she said.
McCoy and Gambill both said Indiana already faces a teacher shortage. Both believe the fear of being punished for violating provisions of HB1134, as well as the added pressure, would drive more teachers away.
"This is a sure-fire way to make sure those people do not enter the profession or stay in the profession," Gambill said. “When things are so vague and when divisions are so high folks will simply 'say I don’t want to take any chance.'"
In a statement to WHAS11, Rep. Cook wrote:
"We heard loud and clear from parents across the state that they want to know what's being taught in their children's classrooms. That's why this legislation would create an online portal for parents to access curriculum, and establish school advisory committees comprised of 60% parents and 40% educators to weigh in on curriculum selections.
As a former history teacher and school administrator, I want to ensure all of history is taught to students, including the good, bad and ugly, and this legislation doesn't change that. It simply ensures divisive concepts, including those theories that place students in either oppressed or oppressor categories, do not enter the classroom. This bill has evolved throughout the legislative process as I heard from many stakeholders, including education associations."
After the House vote, the bill was referred to the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.
It would need a hearing and to pass committee before heading to the Senate floor.
McCoy said she plans to continue collecting letters and will bring them to Indianapolis later this month to present to lawmakers.