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Indiana: How a Diverse Coalition in a Red State Ended Anti-CRT Legislation


“Within 36 hours, we had organized more than a dozen community members and partners to testify against the bill,” Jennifer Smith-Margraf, vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, told CNN. in March.

Indiana community members have spoken at hearings, met with lawmakers and posted on social media to decry Sen. Scott Baldwin’s support for Senate Bill 167.
The bill was later removed from the Senate Education Committee calendar, however, its successor – House Bill 1134 – created even more uproar, not only among Indiana educators, but among a wide range of interest groups in the state.

The bill, which some Republicans have called anti-CRT (critical race theory) legislation, prohibited “teachers or other employees from using supplemental learning materials to promote certain concepts regarding gender, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin”.

Proponents said the bill would give parents more say in what their children learn in school, but critics saw it as censorship.

Indiana’s bill captured the attention of a diverse group of educators, business owners, parents and community leaders across the state, and this coalition successfully defeated it by February. However, more than a dozen other red states have passed similar legislation.

Since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other actions that would restrict the teaching of critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an analysis by the Education Week.

Across the country, Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation banning CRT in public schools, even though it’s not taught in K-12. CRT is an academic concept that is typically offered in higher-level courses, but over the past year it has become confused with diversity and inclusion efforts as well as debates about how to teach. race and history.

Last month, Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves enacted a bill described as a ban on the CRT. Senate Bill 2113 prohibits teaching “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior” in public schools. Mississippi has become the 15th state to pass legislation limiting how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. The bill does not explicitly mention the CRT in its wording, but Governor Reeves said in a statement that the CRT was a threat to public education, which inspired him to sign the bill.
And in South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem recently signed a law banning public universities in the state from using training and guidance materials that could cause racial “unrest.”

A movement grows

Indiana public policy adviser Marshawn Wolley said the coalition to fight HB 1134 is unlike anything Indiana has seen before.

“We had nearly 200 speakers signed up to testify against the bill — members and community partners,” Margraf said. “The Senate Education Committee limited testimony on the bill during this hearing to just over 2 hours, so only 20 of those registered to testify were called to speak.”

The coalition represented a variety of viewpoints. Wolley, who is a parent, told CNN he couldn’t imagine letting his son go through a system “where the teaching is unbiased.”

Although the bill does not explicitly mention the CRT, Wolley said it attacks the principle of teaching race in the classroom.

Across the country, black parents said their voices and their children’s concerns had been lost in the partisan debate over the CRT. Thus, the Urban League of Indianapolis, the Indy Black Expo, and the African-American Coalition of Indianapolis helped devise strategies to bring black parents to the Senate during the hearing.
Indiana teachers were also on the offensive. Margraf said teachers, having fought lawmakers on other policies, knew what they needed to do to advocate against the bill.

“We had relationships with lawmakers before that…now suddenly (they) attack us about everything we do and everything we believe in,” she said.

As a high school teacher in Indiana, Margraf said she believed in teaching her students the truth. She said the bill would have created a barrier for her to do her job as an educator if she was not allowed to teach important concepts about race, gender, ethnicity and religion.

Indiana’s business community shared a similar concern, Taylor Hughes, director of strategy, policy and special projects at the Indy Chamber, told CNN. He and other business leaders also spoke at the legislative hearing.

“It was to address an issue that isn’t real because we know CRT isn’t taught in school, but if you create a chilling effect on teachers who don’t teach the truth… it will harm us now and in the future.”

Indiana: How a Diverse Coalition in a Red State Ended Anti-CRT Legislation

Hughes said the bill has the potential to disrupt “future talent” in Indiana’s workforce. He said the bill disrupts teaching young people about diversity, equity and inclusion, a lesson he says is important in the job market.

Last month, the bill was closed in the Senate after coalition work.

“We couldn’t be prouder that everyone is stepping up, working together and standing up for our children,” Margraf said.

Wolley said he expects more bills to appear soon, but he believes the coalition and others like it can use their power to defeat those bills. He said coalition building is an important part of shutting down more anti-CRT legislation.

CNN’s Justin Gamble contributed to this report.

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