Marshawn Wolley, center, and several other education and civil rights advocates gather at the Statehouse on Jan. 19 to rally against HB 1134, a “parent transparency” bill they say would limit classroom lessons on racism. Photo by Whitney Downard | CNHI Statehouse Reporter
Marshawn Wolley, center, and several other education and civil rights advocates gather at the Statehouse on Jan. 19 to rally against HB 1134, a “parent transparency” bill they say would limit classroom lessons on racism. Photo by Whitney Downard | CNHI Statehouse Reporter
INDIANAPOLIS — Civil rights groups and educators rallied at the Statehouse on Wednesday to kill House Bill 1134, a controversial “parent transparency” bill that opponents say will limit how teachers approach race in the classroom.

Ivan Hicks, a vice president with the Indianapolis NAACP, called the legislation a “dangerous” and “racist” bill that promoted lies about America’s history.

“(It) seeks to pretend that the atrocities of the past have not taken place,” Hicks said. “We need to ensure that our children are in an environment where they have an opportunity to understand the atrocities of the past and the horrors of slavery — not simply the greatness of America.”

Under the bill, students could file a complaint if a lesson made them uncomfortable and require teachers to post all of their curriculum materials online for parental review.

With teachers burnt out from the stresses of teaching for a third year in the pandemic, education advocates said this added another burden and pressured teachers not to cover America’s history of racism because students might not like it.

“You can’t teach about slavery without talking about racism; you can’t teach about Jim Crow without talking about racism,” Marshawn Wolley said. “To put my child in a classroom where he must sit and be taught ‘just the facts’ and excluding racism as a fact of life that black people face — that people of color face… in this state every day is unconscionable.”

Wolley, representing several Black Indianapolis organizations, said that none of the groups had been consulted before the bill’s publication, which he said impacted the education of Black children in the classroom. Their amendments proposed to the bill’s author a week ago didn’t receive a hearing, he said.

“So we’re here now, talking a little bit louder, because we weren’t heard when we tried to engage in a different way,” Wolley said.

Russ Skiba, a professor of psychology with the Indiana University School of Education, said cultural responsiveness was a state-mandated part of teacher training and prepared students to educate others who might not look like them. Some students from rural areas didn’t have any interaction with people of color and struggled to be effective, he said.

“If this bill was passed, any student in any class could file a complaint at any time that they were made uncomfortable by teaching them about race and racism,” Skiba said. “It would stop any teaching… dead in their tracks.”

With the constant threat of legal action for teachers and librarians, Skiba said he worried that the bill would discourage would-be educators from pursuing a career in education and exacerbate the teacher shortage.

Skiba said schools could and should examine themselves to make sure they’re getting parents involved and be more transparent but said HB 1134 didn’t accomplish that goal.

“We don’t bring a hammer and destroy the whole educational system and tear down all training and cultural responsiveness,” Skiba said. “Let’s all sit down together and figure out the best way (forward). That will take time and mutual effort and listening to each other.

“It can’t be done in a bill hastily put together that would essentially destroy our opportunities to do that.”
© 2022 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.