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‘Divisive concepts’ House Bill 1134 misses 2nd reading deadline, dies in Senate

Indiana teachers unexpectedly got what they have been advocating for during the General Assembly’s 2022 session—the death of House Bill 1134.

After hours of Senate Republicans meeting in caucus and the bill being moved to the end of the Senate calendar twice, Senate sponsor Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, passed on the bill during the second reading deadline. This means the bill—which would have created a curriculum advisory committee, required schools to maintain learning management systems and prohibited teaching of certain “divisive concepts”—is officially dead.

But Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said legislators may incorporate the concepts in other education bills.

According to Bray, some members of the caucus did not think the legislation went far enough while others thought it created a burden for teachers.

Members of the Indiana State Teachers Association, a union representing 40,000 Indiana educators, have been donning red and lobbying against the bill at the Indiana Statehouse since January. The ISTA released a statement on the death of the legislation.

“Thanks to educators, parents, community members and a broad coalition of Hoosiers who made their voices heard that HB 1134 has no place in Indiana,” ISTA President Keith Gambill said in the statement.

Gambill also warned parts of the legislation could re-emerge during conference committees.

During Tuesday’s Senate session, the legislators pushed all controversial bills to the end of the roll. The Senate Republicans paused the session to meet as a caucus several times, during which they likely discussed the fate of the bill behind closed doors.

At the time the bill was dismissed, it had 25 amendments, most of them by Democrats. A fight to amend the bill by Democrats was also made in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee prior to the committee vote last week.

Roger’s amendment largely gutted the bill. Rogers pared down the “divisive concepts” listed in the bill, loosened the requirement for teachers to post materials to a requirement that parents have access to learning management systems, and sent the mental health aspect to a study committee.

The bill’s author, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, was disappointed it was watered down.

“We have about 10 things that are in this. About six of them I can agree with,” Cook said, “more than likely because it moves it into a better position.”

The future for HB 1134 looked dreary when Senate Bill 167, a very similar “anti-CRT” bill, was pulled by Bray after the author, Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, made national news for telling a teacher he would need to remain neutral when teaching about Nazism. But the House passed the bill 60-37, mostly along party lines, and the watered-down bill was less restrictive than the initial legislation.

EARLIER: A bill that aimed to create more parental control and limit teaching of “divisive topics” met a large amount of criticism from Indiana educators. Now a Senate amendment is walking back some of the bill’s original provisions.

House Bill 1134 has faced pushback from educators throughout the 2022 session, including a recent six-day effort by the Indiana State Teachers Association to pack the Statehouse in protest of the bill. Now a substantial amendment has passed in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee

The amendment, authored by Sen. Linda Rogers (above), R-Granger, would address concerns of educators that have been echoed throughout testimony. The legislature has faced consistent pushback on HB 1134, with education stakeholders saying it could limit teacher speech and classroom materials and increase workload for teachers, further creating a teacher shortage in the state.

Senate Education and Career Development Committee chair Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, said the amendment strips the bill and that there’s essentially one paragraph left.

At the Wednesday meeting, Rogers said her amendment came from listening to the concerns of parents and teachers. She said she wanted the amendment to give parents a way to be involved in their child’s learning, to rein in teachers that may be violating the “divisive concepts” clause and to ensure local control for Indiana schools.

Rogers’ amendment removes the original requirement that all teachers post materials online and instead requires that parents have access to the school’s learning management system and be allowed to review materials upon request. Instead of requiring schools to create a materials advisory committee, the new version would allow parents to request a school board create one.

A major concern of educators was the potential for lawsuits over violations of the bill. The amendment removes language about lawsuits, instead requiring school districts to adopt their own procedures for handling complaints about bill violations, and allows parents to go to the Indiana Department of Education if the district’s grievance process is inadequate.

The amendment gets rid of any mention of “material harmful to minors” and “sexually explicit materials” as well as the requirement for educators to be impartial on historical events, and it pares down the list of “divisive concepts.”

With the amendment, schools would not be able to teach that a group is inherently superior or inferior, should be treated preferentially or adversely, or that individuals are inherently responsible for historical actions of their group based on their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color and national origin.

Nothing in the bill can exclude the teaching of factual history or historical injustices, according to the amendment.

A different portion of the bill deals with mental health services for students. The amendment would give parents seven days to opt their children out of ongoing, non-emergency mental health services and require schools to send out two notices beforehand. The amendment also adds language specifying that daily interactions with students do not require parental notice. It also specifies that parental notice is not necessary in a crisis situation where a student is at risk of harming themselves or others or in danger of abuse or neglect.

The amendment passed in the committee with only Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, voting no.

The bill’s author, Rep. Anthony Cook, R-Cicero, gave a statement prior to testimony explaining what the bill did and did not do when it was passed by the House. In a eulogy to the initial version, Cook said it did not prevent the teaching of history or prevent students from receiving mental health services or social-emotional learning.

Cook said he did not agree with all of the changes made in the amendment.

“We have about 10 things that are in this. About six of them I can agree with,” Cook said. “More than likely because it moves it into a better position.”

Despite the change, the Indiana State Teachers Association said it stands against the bill. Gail Zeheralis, public policy and political affairs specialist for the group, said the group appreciates the changes but the bill is still misguided.

“I’m simply asking you to reconsider the premise of the bill and instead reconsider it in a way that honors the hard work teachers do and reflects the high regard that parents have for Indiana’s teachers,” Zeheralis said.

At the start of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, Raatz asked the nearly 200 testifiers on HB 1134 to condense their testimony as best they could, allotting two hours to the attendees. Raatz also asked that testimony be made on the amended bill only.

No vote occurred Wednesday so that testimony can be considered in possible amendments, Raatz said.

Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.