Region teachers are disturbed by the possible impacts of House Bill 1134, which would limit what teachers can say regarding several “divisive concepts,” such as race, sex and political affiliation.

The bill passed the House Jan. 26 by a vote of 66-37. It now goes to the Senate, which previously killed a similar bill that would have required teachers to present impartial lessons, even, according to one senator, when discussing topics such as Nazism.

Proposed law's provisions

House Bill 1134 contains several components, including a requirement that schools post educational activities and curricular materials on their school’s website and that they be required to allow parents to opt out of certain educational activities and curricular materials. School corporations would also have to create a curricular materials advisory committee composed of parents, teachers, administrators and community members.

The bill also lists a series of “divisive concepts” that would be banned in Indiana classrooms, and it creates regulations in the discussion of issues involving sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin and political affiliation.

School corporations would also be required to request, in writing, the provision or administration of mental, social-emotional or psychological services to their children before providing those services.

The bill would allow parents who allege violations of banned topics to file a complaint and sue schools.

Teachers' response

Emily Maurek, an elementary music teacher in the Lake Central School Corp., said teachers ultimately hope to help students, and doesn't know how or when that message got twisted.

"(These) bills make no sense, vilify teachers, education and schools and all the good work that education officials are trying to do," Maurek said.

Kristin McMurtrey, the chairwoman of the Northwest Indiana Coalition for Public Education and a licensed English teacher, said the bill is a series of convoluted and muddy solutions in search of a problem.

McMurtrey said this type of bill also paints a false narrative of parents versus teachers. But she said most teachers she knows are parents.

“Teachers would love to be more vocal about their concerns about this bill, but because this bill so thoroughly positions teachers as unworthy agents of indoctrination, we have teachers that are afraid that their valid concerns and complaints for our children will be perceived as some sort of political statement,” McMurtrey said.

Deb Porter, UniServ director for the Indiana State Teachers Association and a retired teacher, said the bill is especially unrealistic as teachers often have to adjust curricular materials and education supplies on the fly, as students get behind due to other matters.

Porter said most schools she knows already offer alternative options for literature, such as letting parents choose a different book in English classes if they are concerned about materials.

She said the bill is troublesome in how it would change the relationship between teachers and parents.

“We should be respected for our expertise and our ability to make the right decisions for our students,” Porter said. She said legitimate problems with individual teachers are dealt with within the local school corporation.

Porter said curriculum is never selected in isolation and is made with the department, allowing it to be vetted.

“They’re micromanaging our profession,” Porter said of legislators who support the proposed law.

Lake Central Superintendent Larry Veracco went to Indianapolis with Maurek and another teacher to discuss their concerns with the bill. He said it is unclear what the bill is hoping to solve.

“It is disheartening for some of our teachers,” Veracco said. He said that even if the bill is supposed to promote transparency, a lot of children and parents already speak out when they are uncomfortable with what is being taught.

He also said he feels the concerns of the legislature lie within history and English, but the bill does not acknowledge that.

“Are we hearing complaints about teachers teaching P.E. the wrong way?” Veracco asked.

Maurek said that during the meeting with the legislature, they asked about specific instances in Indiana where these concerns were expressed regarding curriculum. Maurek said the legislators they met with only had one vague example.

Veracco is particularly concerned about the parental advisory committee, as he feels it is an unrealistic requirement. He said that recruiting parents is already a challenge for certain volunteer programs and that he cannot imagine that parents would want to review large amounts of curriculum.

Concerns about teacher shortage

As of November 2021, nearly 97% of school districts in the state reported a teacher shortage, according to a study by Indiana State University.

And Porter said she knows teachers who will be pushed to the brink and choose to leave the profession.

In Indiana, individuals are eligible to retire when their years of service and age total to 85. Porter said most teachers teach well beyond that, but this will incentivize some teachers to retire before they otherwise would.

Tony Lux, former superintendent for Merrillville Community School Corp., said he is concerned this bill could also impact people’s interest in the teaching profession as a whole.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs decreased 39% from 2010 to 2017, and completion of said programs went down 31%. Lux said that as teachers become targets for disrespect, as he perceives would happen from this bill, more students will lose interest in the profession.

Travis Scherer, president of the Tri County Classroom Teachers Organization and a high school agriculture teacher, said this bill would add to teachers already being overwhelmed.

“You’re adding one more thing on someone’s plate,” Scherer said.

Eric Gappa, president of the North Judson-San Pierre Classroom Teachers Association and high school math teacher, said he often answers questions for students all hours of the night, well beyond his contracted hours.

He said that he does this to help build community and trust with students and that he thinks the bill will create an unnecessary boundary there.

Gappa said it feels redundant to have to post materials on the school’s website, as that is normally already provided to parents and he is in frequent communication with them as needed.

“Some teachers might say they don’t have the time for this and they’re being nit-picked,” Gappa said. “I’ve talked to some teachers who say, 'If this does get signed into law, I’m done.'”

Scherer said the legislature is thinking about a national issue infiltrating classrooms and transparency, but they often do not have enough time already. He also said he is unsure if parents would even choose to view the materials.

Scherer used the example of his class Jan. 28, where he presented several pages of materials to the class. He said he teaches for 180 days a year and the amount of material he would have to upload for parents to review would add up very quickly.

Todd Shafer, president of the Culver Classroom Teachers Association and middle school math teacher, said he is especially worried about what could happen if the teacher shortage became worse.

He said he could see schools being forced to fill teaching positions with people who are under qualified temporarily, only for it to become permanent. He said that would only create other problems.

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