Political and personal conflicts over what gets taught in public schools, as seen in myriad angry YouTube and TikTok videos recorded at school district meetings elsewhere in the country, soon could be coming to every community in the Hoosier State.

The Senate Committee on Education and Career Development is crafting legislation to require each Indiana school corporation and charter school establish a "Curricular Materials Advisory Committee," charged with reviewing and evaluating all school materials and activities to ensure they're "representative of the community's interests and aligned with Indiana's academic standards."

Under the plan, the committee — composed of parents, teachers and district residents — would advise the local school board on all decisions concerning the purchase of all textbooks and other printed materials, audiovisual materials, electronic teaching materials, library materials, student surveys, and teacher lesson plans.

In addition, electronic copies of all the material ultimately adopted by the school board or used at a school, including lesson plans, must be posted online for ongoing parent and public review, or available for inspection at the school if the material only is available in printed form.

State Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, the sponsor of Senate Bill 167, said the legislation responds to constant complaints he's heard from constituents over the lack of "transparency" in school materials, along with the alleged inclusion of divisive subjects in Indiana classrooms.

Baldwin acknowledged state law already permits school boards to establish curricular advisory committees. He said the need for transparency is so important he believes all school districts should be required to use them.

In addition, the legislation seeks to prevent school personnel from sharing personal opinions on controversial topics while instructing students by banning the suggestion that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently superior or inferior; racist, sexist or oppressive; deserves adverse treatment or less respect; or determines a person's moral character.

Educators also would be barred from asserting an individual of any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of that group; should feel guilt, anguish, or responsibility based on their characteristics; or that the notion of meritocracy or work ethic is racist or sexist, or belongs only to individuals with certain traits.

"I totally believe we should teach our nation's history, good and bad," Baldwin said. "But we want teachers to be position neutral."

Several Democratic committee members said they fear the proposal is so broadly worded teachers won't know what they can or can't teach, possibly putting teachers at risk of punishment for saying the United States is the greatest country in the world because that's promoting one national origin over another.

They also wondered why private schools still would be permitted to promote the superiority of one religion over another even though the tuition costs of many students attending Indiana private schools are covered by state-funded vouchers.

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said he fears the measure, if enacted, could lead to even more divisiveness if students feel their life experiences are ignored or minimized by their teachers, or used as fodder by activist students hoping to catch teachers breaking the law.

"There's a lot to unpack here," Melton said. "Just because a part of my history makes you uncomfortable doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it."

"If we truly want to help our children, look after their well-being and promote their mental health, there’s much more targeted and beneficial legislation we could be considering than a bill to censor what students can learn in school."

The legislation additionally limits the use of social emotional learning tools for student development that previously were endorsed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, as well as potentially restricting student access to school library materials that describe or represent, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.

"This is a tumultuous, difficult bill and topic, and the variety of opinions here are an indication of our need to have this discussion in some way or form," Baldwin said.

The panel is due next week to consider revising the legislation before deciding whether to advance it to the full Senate for further consideration.

A similar plan, House Bill 1134, is scheduled for a hearing Monday at the House Education Committee.
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