The following is testimony opposing SB 167 by ICPE–Monroe County's vice chair, Jenny Robinson, at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. You can watch it here.
Chairman Raatz, members of the committee: Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I am here as a parent of three children in public schools to oppose Senate Bill 167. I fear that this bill would feed division between schools and families.
I agree with this bill’s authors that the connection between families and schools matters. Parental involvement in a child’s education is important, indeed crucial. It is in the best interests of children for the relationship between families and schools to be mutually respectful, supportive, and collaborative. Our structures should lay the groundwork for this.
This bill assumes that school districts and classrooms are not transparent and responsive. In my personal experience, the opposite is true. As a parent, I have always had many avenues to learn more about my children’s classrooms. I am invited into them in school open houses, where I meet my kids’ teachers. I have volunteered in classrooms, in the school library, and on field trips. I have attended school curriculum nights and PTO meetings. I can become an “observer” of my child’s classes on Canvas, an online class management system. I sign syllabi that my kids are required to bring home and show me. I can email my kids’ teachers and principals at any time, and when I do, I always receive a prompt reply. And most importantly, I get to vote for my school board members. Parents can also run for school board. Our school boards are democratically elected, and that keeps our public schools accountable to our communities.
Parents can already communicate if they are uncomfortable with an aspect of a literary work and how that would affect their own kids. A student in my son’s class was able to choose not to watch a movie of Lord of the Flies because of discomfort with profanity in it. I respect that they were able to make the choice for their child--but I would be alarmed and upset if other parents’ fears and discomforts were able to dictate the information and content that my own kids have access to in school. That’s why I am concerned about these curriculum review committees that SB 167 would set up. Why should a small group of parents have the power to restrict what my kids, and other people’s kids, get to learn about in school? What if this curriculum review committee didn’t like aspects of the state standards and made recommendations that conflicted with the state standards?
I’m a parent, but I tell you that this bill gives too much power to parents. Children should have rights as individuals, beyond their positions in families. Their access to information and education should not depend solely on their parents and should not be circumscribed by the limits of their parents’ knowledge and imagination. A December 30 report in the IndyStar said that 50 children in Indiana died in the last year due to abuse or neglect. 80% of the 59 alleged perpetrators were parents. When children are abused and neglected, parents are often the ones responsible. Yet this bill would not only give parents power to opt their kids out of curriculum, it would also require parental consent before children receive mental health services. In some sad cases, this would give the abuser of a child the power to deny that child access to counseling, therapy, or other mental health supports.
The language of the bill is not coherent. Teachers would be barred from teaching that any political affiliation is inherently oppressive. Nazism is a political affiliation. Surely we would not want to bar teachers from communicating that Nazism is bad.
My greatest concern with this bill is that it would make it harder for social studies teachers to approach important topics like race. I agree–I think it’s common sense–that children should not be made to feel guilty for the sins of the past. But no social studies teacher has ever made my kids, who are white, feel guilty, and I don’t know a single teacher who would feel that was effective pedagogical practice. The bill sets up a straw man. At the same time, it would have a chilling effect on the teaching of history because it would expose schools to expensive litigation for factors that are outside of teachers’ control–the emotional response of students to a lesson.
Slavery was racist. Jim Crow was racist. Neighborhood covenants that barred Black and Brown people from housing were racist. The father of my son’s music teacher had to leave the state of Indiana to marry his white wife; it was not legal for them to marry here, and that was a racist law. Would you hide these aspects of our history? Would you have teachers avoid them in the name of protecting students’ feelings? Students in Indiana should be taught actual history in school, not myth or propaganda.
Senate Bill 167 is unnecessary and potentially deeply harmful. Please oppose it.
Thank you for your time.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County (ICPE–Monroe County) advocates for all children to have high quality, equitable, well-funded schools that are subject to democratic oversight by their communities.
We are a nonpartisan and nonprofit group of parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and other community members of Monroe County and surrounding areas.