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Indiana Senate Bill 167 Would Be a Disaster for Our Schools

On Wednesday, January 5, Noblesville and Westfield’s State Senator Scott Baldwin (recently linked to the far-right militia group Oath Keepers) introduced an “Education” bill to the Senate Education and Career Committee that displays a complete lack of education. It aims to enforce classroom censorship and put teachers at risk of criminal prosecution for teaching history.

On its face, SB167 might seem harmless to some, after a year of pervasive far-right narratives has created a sense of normalcy around disinformation. However, its introduction continues the irresponsible conflation of classroom discussions about historic racism with the college-level concept of CRT, or Critical Race Theory. CRT is not a part of Indiana K–12 curriculum, as all of Hamilton County’s school districts have publicly stated.

The bill centers on restricting discussions of “…Race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, and political affiliation,” all of which are incredibly nuanced and expansive topics. Regardless of stance, Senate Democrats are urging their colleagues to recognize that this poorly crafted bill oversimplifies the complexities of the classroom and those who teach and learn in it.

If this bill becomes a law, it will most assuredly create a chilling effect for Indiana teachers, who already are paid less than 90% of the nation’s teachers, and prevent necessary learning and character development in schools. This comes at a time when understanding, empathy, and facts-based historical context needs to inform our children and adults, more than ever.

Instead, SB167’s key goals are to increase parental control by

  • Banning educators from engaging in discussions that may fall under “eight key ideas” surrounding privilege or pain students may experience based on various identities and affiliations.

  • Requiring parents to give permission for the students to participate in social and emotional learning curriculum.

  • Forming parental advisory committees to influence curriculum.

  • Requiring schools to post all lesson materials online.

Senate Democrats, educators, and parents point to the very real threat of unintended consequences to the reckless language used to create the bill. It’s clear from Wednesday’s hearing that the bill’s language is so broad that misinterpretation—and thus, abuse—would be inevitable, and that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should be concerned.

For example, in hearings on Wednesday, history teacher Matt Bockenfeld brought up the teaching of fascism and Nazism. As SB167 currently stands, it prohibits taking a stand around “political affiliation.” The teacher pointed out that the bill implies that teachers cannot take a stand against fascism and Nazism, and Baldwin seemingly agreed that teachers should not. While he has since walked back his comments, it is concerning that this seemingly obvious example of an interpretation of his bill had not been considered. And even more concerning, he did not seem worried that teachers would not be able to denounce Nazism in schools under his proposed language.

When Senate Democrats urged Baldwin to consider the backlash, including possible civil lawsuits that would cost the state millions, he seemed to double down. When asked to consider the far-reaching implications of criminal charges against a teacher who would have no way to prove or disprove what may or may not have been said inside a classroom, it again fell on deaf ears.

Senate Democrats urged the formation of a subcommittee, comprised of educators and experts dedicated to exploring the language and potential legal consequences of the bill.

The sheer lack of necessity for the sweeping change this bill would cause is, of course, front and center, considering there is already a process of checks and balances in place for concerned parents. The democratic process allows for citizens to vote for or against school board members, make opinions heard at publicly held meetings, and file formal complaints for review when extreme cases present themselves.

The formation of such a subcommittee has yet to be seen, and is unlikely because the Republican Supermajority has a stronghold on the Indiana General Assembly. When a Supermajority is present, lawmakers can ram bills through the legislature and override any vetoes from the governor. This means that we, the citizens of Hamilton County, are the only checks and balances Senator Baldwin has.

The newly elected Senator claimed the crafting of this legislation, which would change the entirety of the state education system, was in response to “two-hundred emails” he received from constituents. Baldwin represents around 130,000 constituents in his district, and it’s time for more of us to make our voices heard. If you’d like to respectfully share your views on why this bill is harmful, you can reach Senator Baldwin here:

State Senator Scott Baldwin

200 W. Washington St.

Indianapolis, IN 46204

Phone: 800-382-9467 or 317-232-9400

Legislative Assistant:

Adam Welker

Phone: 317-232-9533

Find your legislators and contact them here.

See the full video of this bill's committee hearing here.

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