Indiana is among the numerous Republican-led states to consider bills this spring legislative session to protect kids in public schools from pornographic, racist, and anti-American materials. Parent activists in the state say they’re concerned the strongest bills on such issues will be kept from public hearings and open votes to protect Republican lawmakers from primaries and angry constituents. In an era in which critical race theory and anti-American curriculum are shifting elections, that could be a fool’s move.
Indiana’s legislative session opens today, Jan. 4, with the first hearing on hot-topic education bills slated for Jan. 5. Two bills, Senate Bill 167 and House Bill 1040, have already been filed to deal with critical race theory and other education issues of high public concern. More are expected. But legislative leadership hasn’t committed to giving the strongest parents rights bill a hearing or vote.
Both SB 167 and HB 1040 would ban teaching schoolchildren that their race, religion, sex, political affiliation, and other characteristics make them superior or inferior, but SB 167 largely relies on self-enforcement from education bureaucracies while HB 1040 puts a teacher’s license at risk if he is proven guilty of teaching racism to kids. HB 1040 includes, while SB 167 lacks, provisions that would protect whistleblowing parents, students, and teachers from retaliation.
“I have not gotten a commitment for a hearing on my bill yet,” said state Rep. J.D. Prescott, the lead sponsor of HB 1040, whom The Federalist reached Monday by phone while he was out working on his farm. Prescott plans to cosponsor some of the other bills in play to make sure at least some protections for Hoosier children get passed this session, but he says 1040 is “the bill that’s going to give the most protections to students and parents.”
Rhonda Miller of the grassroots group Purple for Parents told The Federalist Sunday that she and other concerned parents in Indiana prefer HB 1040 over SB 167 for two main reasons: SB 167 has weaker enforcement and fewer protections for kids.
“We want — we’re calling it the radical progressive socio-emotional learning removed from schools,” she said. “[SB 167] does not do that.” SB 167 creates local committees to review curriculum, “but the school boards control the individuals who serve on those committees. You know how that’s going to play out.”
In addition, under SB 167, school districts “are supposed to put curriculum up online for everybody to see, which I’m fully for. But if a teacher uses curriculum that is not posted online, they can post it five days afterwards, after they use it.” At that point, she noted, a child may already have been exposed to objectionable material with no opportunity for a parent to protect his child in advance.
Unlike SB 167, HB 1040 would also give parents, not schools, the right to decide what medical treatments their children receive and to opt their children out of wearing face masks at school. It would also ban schools from quarantining healthy children, a widespread practice in the state that has heavily disrupted learning and contributed to a youth mental distress spike Gov. Eric Holcomb is now seeking more money to address.
Indiana parents have been stampeding school board meetings over Holcomb’s science-contradicting Covid restrictions. Some parents in northeastern Indiana are also suing the governor over his administration’s demand of masks and quarantines for healthy kids.
Parent activists in the state want elected officials to address these issues, but their leadership might prefer to continue punting. The Indiana State Teachers Association, a union, is the second-biggest-spending lobby in Indiana politics. Teachers unions and other public school associations such as superintendents organizations typically oppose bills to protect children from racism and pornography in school.
“The content of books in school libraries has been a hot-button issue for months, illustrated by countless school board meetings disrupted as parents read explicit passages during public comment time,” noted the Indianapolis Star this week in a preview of the state’s legislative session scheduled to end in just 11 weeks, on March 15. “An attempt was made last year to remove protections for schools from laws prohibiting the dissemination of material harmful to minors, but it failed.”
Parents around the state, like those around the nation, have found public schools and libraries introducing minors to explicit materials, such as books describing rape, masturbation, underage sex, and other obscene acts. Current Indiana law exempts public schools and libraries from penalties for exposing minors to obscene materials. Both HB 1040 and SB 167 would end that exception.
“Blatantly harmful material deemed illegal on the street corner shouldn’t be considered legal in a school library,” said Republican state Sen. Scott Baldwin, SB 167’s primary author, in a statement. “I am simply seeking to even the playing field so that materials illegal outside a school are also illegal inside a school.”
Another bill, House Bill 1041, would require schools to keep single-sex sports teams rather than allowing children who claim to be the opposite sex to switch teams.
SB 167 is slated for a hearing on Jan. 4, said the communications director for Senate Pro Tem Rod Bray. When asked if he would allow a public hearing and vote on HB 1040, House Education Chairman Bob Behning told The Federalist through his press secretary on Jan. 3 that “he hasn’t determined which bills related to school curriculum transparency he’ll likely hear in the House Education Committee until the bill filing deadline has passed.” That deadline is Jan. 11.
The filing deadline to enter a state primary is Feb. 4, right after the January’s end deadline to give any bills a hearing in time to pass this spring. If a strong bill doesn’t pass, or is amended on any of these issues, Hoosier kids will remain unprotected against school porn, unscientific health restrictions, psychological abuse based on their skin color, and more.
House Speaker Todd Huston’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would ensure a hearing and vote for both SB 167 and HB 1040.
“The only way they can stop 1040 is to not give it a hearing. If it’s on the floor of the House, it’s going to pass, because nobody’s going to run on a pro-pornography, pro-critical race theory, pro-racism platform,” said Eric Miller of Advance America, an Indiana pro-family advocacy organization, in a phone interview Sunday.