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Noblesville Superintendent: Senate Bill 167 has 'alarming consequences' for schools

Indianapolis Star logo Indianapolis Star 3 days ago MJ Slaby, Indianapolis Star
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Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer wants lawmakers to know the impact proposed legislation like Senate Bill 167 would have on educators and the future of Indiana.

“Education legislation is often written without any input from actual educators and with little regard for how it will actually work in the real world,” Niedermeyer wrote in an open letter on Wednesday. “I feel it’s my responsibility to share what this proposed legislation would mean for Noblesville Schools and schools throughout the state.”

She wrote that SB 167 has been in the spotlight due to some “alarming consequences this legislation could impose on public schools if it were to be adopted into law.”

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Read the latest: Indiana bill that sparked Nazi comment won't move forward. Companion legislation might.

Senate Bill 167 inspired by critical race theory debate

The bill is a wide-ranging and inspired by the national discourse over critical race theory. It received national attention after its author, Sen. Scott Badwin, R-Noblesville, said it would require teachers to remain impartial on Nazism. Baldwin later walked back those remarks in a statement to IndyStar.

Education bills: Find out what's in controversial education bills in Indiana, read full text

Also on Wednesday, the bill, which was slated to be amended and voted on in committee, was pulled from the schedule.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said it was so Baldwin could continue to work on the language to address concerns about requiring teachers to be impartial when teaching about historical injustices and atrocities. Committee chair Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, said the bill was taken off the calendar and Baldwin was isolating after a COVID-19 exposure.

But a similar house bill, HB 1134, moved forward Wednesday.

Scott Baldwin, a Republican member of the Indiana Senate during Organization Day at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. © Robert Scheer, Robert Scheer/IndyStar Scott Baldwin, a Republican member of the Indiana Senate during Organization Day at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.

House Bill 1134, House Bill 1040 have similar language

Similar bills have been proposed multiple states and outcry about diversity and inclusion efforts in schools have dominated public comment sessions of school board meetings in suburban districts for months.  

That’s especially the case in Hamilton County where board meetings have been packed as attendees criticize diversity and inclusion as well as social-emotional learning and more. As a result, several school boards, including in Noblesville, have altered their public comment policies and even gone to virtual meetings for a time.

But it’s not just Hamilton County where SB 167 and related bills would have an impact, Niedermeyer stressed.

“In addition to the great disservice this would do to Hoosier students, it also stands to threaten the strong academic reputations of our Indiana educational institutions, and our ability as a state to attract residents and economic development,” she wrote.

A lasting impact in the classroom

Niedermeyer outlined her concerns about the bill as it is currently written, saying it would prohibit teaching "accurate historical facts" and general sociology concepts both at the K-12 and college levels.

It would also drive educators out of a profession that is “already undervalued and in the midst of a desperate shortage” and move time and money from student academics to government bureaucracy.

On the point of transparency for parents and taxpayers, Niedermeyer said she agrees that is important and listed the ways the public can access curriculum and provide input.

More: Stephen Colbert rips Indiana state senator on Nazism remarks in Monday monologue

At Noblesville Schools, she said community representatives are on the annual curriculum program review teams, parents can follow and view class lessons and materials through digital classroom accounts and can communicate with teachers through meetings and open houses.

Additionally, the district has added to the curriculum area of its website and plans to continue to add more by grade level and subject, she wrote.

These avenues of access have been a point of tension at Noblesville school board meetings where critics are unhappy with the answers they receive about diversity, equity and inclusion work, and say they aren’t being listened to despite these avenues and community meetings hosted by the district. Others have expressed their support for diversity, equity and inclusion work in the district.

Niedermeyer ended her message by encouraging readers to learn more about SB 167 as well as House Bills 1134 and 1040 and to contact their legislators.

Elsewhere in Hamilton County, Carmel Clay Superintendent Michael Beresford made some of the same points about the impact lawmakers can have on the teaching profession during his comments at the district’s school board meeting on Monday.

He said the district wants to provide feedback to lawmakers on what the impact of bills would be on the school level, especially at a time of critical employment shortages.

“We think that aggressive educator recruitment and retention should be a top consideration in developing education policy” he said.

And he called on lawmakers to “seize this opportunity to compassionately restore the higher calling and the nobility of being a professional educator,” and send the message to educators that they are valued and trusted.

Anything less could have a negative impact for years to come, he said.

Arika Herron contributed to this reporting.

Call IndyStar education reporter MJ Slaby at 317-447-1586 or email her at mslaby@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mjslaby.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Noblesville Superintendent: Senate Bill 167 has 'alarming consequences' for schools

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