“Within 36 hours, we had organized over a dozen community members and partners to testify against the bill,” Jennifer Smith-Margraf, the vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, told CNN in March.
The bill, which some Republicans called anti-CRT (critical race theory) legislation, prohibited “teachers or other employees to use supplemental learning materials to promote certain concepts regarding sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin.”
Supporters said the bill would give parents more say on what their children learn in school, but critics saw it as censorship.
The Indiana bill caught the attention of a diverse group of educators, business owners, parents and community leaders from across the state, and that coalition successfully defeated it in February. However, more than a dozen other red states have passed similar legislation.
Across the country, Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation banning CRT in public schools even though it is not taught in K-12. CRT is an academic concept that is usually offered in graduate-level courses, but in the past year, it has been conflated with diversity and inclusion efforts as well as with debates on how to teach race and history.
A movement grows
Indiana public policy adviser Marshawn Wolley said the coalition to fight HB 1134 was unlike anything Indiana had 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 that hearing to just over 2 hours, so only 20 some of the folks signed up to testify were called to speak.”
The coalition represented a variety of views. Wolley, who is a parent, told CNN that he could not imagine letting his son go through a system “where teaching is impartial.”
Although the bill did not explicitly mention CRT, Wolley said it attacked the principle of teaching about race in the classroom.
“We had been building relationships with legislators before that … now all of sudden (they’re) attacking us about everything we do and everything we believe in,” she said.
As an Indiana high school teacher, Margraf said she believes in teaching the truth to her students. 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 on race, sex, ethnicity and religion.
The Indiana business community shared a similar concern, Taylor Hughes, the Indy Chamber’s director of strategy, policy and special projects, told CNN. He and other business leaders also spoke out at the legislative hearing.
“It was to respond to an issue that isn’t real because we know CRT is not taught in school, but if you create a chilling effect of teachers not teaching the truth … it’s gonna harm us now and in the future.”
Hughes said the bill had the potential to disrupt “future talent” in the Indiana workforce. He mentioned the bill disrupted teaching about diversity, equity and inclusion to young people, a lesson he said is important in the workforce.
Last month, the bill was shut down in the Senate after the coalition’s work.
“We could not be prouder of everyone stepping up and 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 these bills. He said building coalitions is an important part of shutting down more anti-CRT legislation.
CNN’s Justin Gamble contributed to this report.