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Indiana GOP lawmaker apologizes for remark on Black students

When asked about a bill that would make changes to academic standards for all students, Rep. Bob Behning suggested Black students lacked "respect for learning."

INDIANAPOLIS — A top Republican Indiana legislator on education policy has apologized for comments suggesting Black students don’t perform better academically because they lack “respect for learning.”

House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning of Indianapolis made the remark last week when answering a question from another lawmaker about a bill that would make changes to the state’s academic standards for all students.

Behning cited a statistic showing that just 30 out of 1,000 Black students in the Indianapolis Public Schools system passed both the English and math portions of the state’s ILEARN standardized exam last year.

“I would suggest that part of the problem is, there’s a number of things,” he said, “poverty impacts that for sure, having a respect for learning … there’s a lot of things that come into play.”

Behning has faced criticism over that remark and apologized Monday in a statement to The Indianapolis Star.

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“I should have been clearer in stating what I truly believe to be the biggest obstacles to improving our children’s academic performance,” he said. “I sincerely regret my remarks have been hurtful to others, and I apologize for it.”

Many people in the Black community were upset by Behning’s comment, said Mark Russell, director of advocacy and family services for the Indianapolis Urban League.

“I don’t think it was taken out of context or misconstrued. It was offensive,” Russell said. “I don’t deal with people’s intentions. I deal with their actions and the affect of their actions.”

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