Opinion: you need to care about HB 1134

Celie Kreilkamp, Co-Editor

On Wednesday, January 26th, a bill passed the Indiana House of Representatives that educators and students say is an attack on our education system. 

No student shall be taught that “an individual, by virtue of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” says HB 1134. 

This is one of eight tenets that the bill aims to not only discourage but penalize. Each follows the same pattern. No student shall be taught to “bear responsibility” for the actions of past members of their race. No student should “feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish” due to their sex, race, ethnicity, etc.

It should be clear (to any student, at least) that these tenets are wildly off-base from anything that’s actually needed in our schools. A teacher telling a white child that they’re responsible for racism– who is actually doing this? Nobody. What some parents apparently find objectionable is an honest discussion about things like racism. 

It’s clear that these are aimed at a broader goal of simply making it very, very hard to talk about racism and its ramifications in the modern world. This is evidenced by the recent killing of Senate Bill 167, a bill with almost identical goals. 

“Marxism, Nazism, fascism … I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those ‘isms,’” said co-author Scott Baldwin in a Senate hearing concerning SB 167.  “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position. … We need to be impartial.”

What makes HB 1134 so scary for educators is this idea that, given its passing of the Senate, there could be legal ramifications of them “taking a position” on something like Nazism. Where does the line get drawn? If a teacher teaches a lesson that a parent takes issue with, regardless of its content, can the teacher be accused of indoctrination? 

HB 1134 has new guidelines for curriculum, but it also contains changes to how schools will handle mental health issues that will vastly decrease the amount of help for students. If a student is having mental or emotional health issues, or simply needs an adult to talk to, school psychologists will not be able to provide any ongoing help without prior parental approval. As a high school student myself who has seen peers in crisis, this is heartbreaking. School is sometimes the only safe space a student has, and limiting help that counselors and social workers can give is going to have ramifications. There are, without a doubt, cases where a child’s parents are not willing to let their child get the help they need. Fox 59 reports that Indiana is now second in the country for child abuse, with 29,198 cases in 2017. It is naive to ignore this reality. 

The bill also takes aim at “Social-Emotional Learning,” a small lesson-based curriculum that has been implemented in Indiana during the past couple of years. It’s a tiny attempt at giving students strategies to deal with stress, ways to navigate relationships, and other simple lessons. It’s almost laughable to hear that HB 1134’s supporters believe these lessons are contaminating their children with “Critical Race Theory” or “subjecting” them to psychological evaluations. They are simply attempts at tackling a growing mental health crisis in youth when most of our students have had little-to-no help their entire lives.

On January 5, I had the opportunity to testify at the public hearing of SB 167. It was a really rewarding experience- members of the public and I were given space to speak directly to the authors of the bill and make our voices heard. Other students from all across Indiana spoke that day. Parents testified. Teachers themselves took the time out of their day to offer a perspective, because they felt that bill was going to influence their classrooms so much that it warranted a day off. 

However, the time put into that sacrifice was no small thing. I registered the night before, drove an hour to Indianapolis at 8 a.m., and spent the next sevenish hours listening to testimony. Not everyone has that kind of availability- least of all students, parents, and teachers, all of which are people whom HB 1134 will affect the most. The thing is, that’s who I found myself wanting to hear from the most. Each time I listened to the supporters of this bill, I thought to myself, this is not what schools need. And then a student would speak, a parent, a teacher, and make it known that SB 167 is not supported by the education system it aims to change. 

A couple weeks after I testified, SB 167 was taken out of consideration in the Senate. I can only hope that HB 1134 will meet the same fate.

So make your voice heard. The Indianapolis Statehouse is a one-hour drive from Bloomington, but you don’t even need to go that far. Email your legislators. Call. Show up. Spread the word. You are who this bill will affect. Make sure you’re the one who decides if it passes.