It’s tempting to think Indiana House Bill 1315 is a concern only for people in Muncie and Gary. But if state officials can abolish local control of Muncie and Gary community schools because of financial problems, they could do the same for your local district.
“There are real stakes here for a number of districts,” said Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association. “They’re seeing that, even though we’re not Gary or Muncie, what happened to them could happen to us.”
HB 1315 doubles down on 2017 legislation that enabled the state to intervene in the Muncie and Gary districts and turn their operation over to emergency managers appointed by a state board.
Most dramatically, it would hand the operation of Muncie Community Schools over to Ball State University and turn it into a charter-like district exempt from state laws on curriculum, transportation and collective bargaining for teachers. In Gary, the bill would convert the elected local school board to an advisory committee that could meet no more than four times a year.
Legislative Democrats and teachers’ unions have been pushing back against the bill, which has been approved by the House. But Ball State and the Republican supermajority seem to strongly support it. The best hope for slowing it down may be via amendments this week in a Senate committee.
Today marks the half-way point for a series of public hearings on the Indiana State Board of Education’s plan to change the way A-to-F grades are calculated for schools and school corporations. These changes aren’t getting much attention, but they could matter a lot for schools.
To the board’s credit, it’s conducting hearings in all corners of the state. Today’s is at 4 p.m. at the University of Evansville. Additional hearings will be March 1 in Madison and March 9 in Indianapolis. The board then will discuss the plan in work sessions March 21 and April 3 and vote on it April 4.
The Indiana Department of Education spent seven months and conducted meetings with teachers, school administrators and members of the public to revise the A-to-F system as part of its plan for implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But the board came up with a different approach. It gave preliminary approval its new school accountability rule in January.
The Indiana House Education Committee made an atrocious sex-education bill considerably less awful Tuesday. Now Senate Bill 65 is just a bad, unnecessary bill, and it still deserves to be rejected.
But the push-and-pull by legislators is distracting from something more important: Hoosier children and youth have a right to age-appropriate, accurate information about sexuality. And if it doesn’t start in school, they may have to fend for themselves, sometimes with bad results.
“I wish health education would be comprehensive, K-12, and that sexuality would be part of that,” said Catherine Sherwood-Laughlin, clinical professor in the Indiana University Bloomington-School of Public Health. “Sexuality education is a sensitive topic, and it can be difficult to teach and talk about. But it’s also important and should be part of the overall health curriculum.”
As approved by the Senate, SB 65 would bar public schools from teaching sexuality education to students unless their parents consent in writing. A House amendment changed the consent procedure. Schools would twice send parents a consent form. If parents don’t respond after they second time, the students can be included in sexuality education classes.
Sherwood-Laughlin teaches college students how to teach sexuality education. She also works with the School of Public Health, IU Health’s Positive-Link program and the Indiana Department of Education to teach sexuality education in schools and provide training for teachers.
Supporters of Senate Bill 65 in the Indiana Legislature say they want to enable parents to inspect the materials that schools use to teach sexuality education. But that’s not what this legislation is about.
Parents already have a right to see textbooks and instructional materials used by public schools under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. So does anyone else who wants to see them.
Luke Britt, the state public access counselor, confirmed that the materials would almost certainly have to be shared as public records. And I don’t believe any responsible public-school administrator would refuse to let parents or others see them. They’re public schools, after all. That’s also true of science and social-studies materials, which can also be controversial.
Instead, SB 65 aims to make it harder for schools to teach about sexuality – especially aspects of sexuality, specifically mentioned in the bill, that the measure’s supporters condemn. It would prohibit public schools from providing “instruction on human sexuality, including sexual activity, sexual orientation or gender identity” without written consent from parents.
Legislation aimed at promoting positive school discipline and reducing the number of students who are suspended or expelled has been approved by the Indiana House and sent to the Senate. As amended in the House, the bill doesn’t mandate better policies, but it’s a step in the right direction.
It would be a bigger step, however, if lawmakers extended their reach to charter schools, including “no-excuses” charter schools that use strict discipline to enforce compliant student behavior.
House Bill 1421, in its current form, would:
- Have the Indiana Department of Education develop a model school discipline policy and provide help to school corporations that want to implement better discipline policies and procedures.
- Have the department survey school corporations about their use of positive discipline and report the findings to the legislature by Sept. 1, 2018.
- Assign a legislative study committee the task of examining positive school discipline and restorative justice policies with an eye to whether they should be required in the future.
None of that is controversial, and the bill passed the House by a vote of 92-0.