A bill that would eliminate the requirement for school administrators to discuss certain topics like safety and curricular materials with teacher union representatives is advancing through the Indiana Statehouse.
Senate Bill 486, authored by Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, passed the Indiana Senate on April 25 on a 27-23 vote. In addition to eliminating the discussion requirement, the bill would also eliminate some training requirements for teachers. The bill now awaits Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature to decide if it will become law.
Current law, Indiana Code 20-29-6-7, states administrators “shall” discuss 16 items such as the selection of teaching materials and class size with teacher unions. Senate Bill 486 would turn that “shall” into “may.”
Supporters of the bill, such as lawmakers, say it will eliminate the burden of redundant discussion which would allow schools to find processes that work for them individually.
Those who oppose the measure argue discussion is rarely unnecessary, and eliminating the mandate could silence teacher voices.
Opposition to the bill
Keith Clock, senior public affairs advisor for the Indiana State Teachers Association, said in an email Senate Bill 486 would make teachers feel disrespected, worsening Indiana's already high teacher shortage caused by low pay and hostility toward teachers.
"The Republican supermajority has yet to make a case how taking away this right will help kids and improve Indiana’s teacher shortage crisis," the ISTA said in the email.
Hundreds of Indiana teachers protested outside the Statehouse on April 13 in opposition to Senate Bill 486 and other controversial education bills. More than 400 Monroe County Community School Corporation staff members attended, Paul Farmer, president of the Monroe County Education Association, said.
“You don’t say to people, ‘Hey, let’s take your voice away,’ but ‘Oh, by the way, we want you to come and teach and work for us,'" he said.
This bill was a slap in the face to educators, Allison Haley, a teacher at Noblesville High School and president of the Noblesville Teachers Forum, said.
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Haley said her school district holds discussions monthly. Teachers and administrators discuss issues ranging from teacher retention and textbook purchases to safety following the 2018 Noblesville school shooting.
Silencing teacher voices also silences student voices, she said, because teachers are the only people who are in the classroom with them all day and know what they need to succeed.
Giving all teachers a voice
Senate Bill 486 is an attempt to bust unions, Farmer said.
Current law only mandates school districts must discuss issues with "exclusive representation," or teacher unions and associations. Supporters of Senate Bill 486 say it would allow non-union teachers to have a greater voice; however, Haley, the president of the Noblesville Teacher Forum, said she takes the concerns of all teachers to heart no matter their union status.
"People assume that I'm just shutting the door in the face of teachers who aren't members, and that's just not true,” she said.
Despite the intent of the bill, Farmer said he thinks the majority of school superintendents and principals, especially at larger school corporations, will continue to have discussions with teacher representatives and keep their doors open to union and non-union teachers. He said MCCSC officials have already assured teachers of this.
"(All teachers) have a faculty meeting," he said. "None of our buildings have 100% membership. They have the ability to voice their opinions in their conversations. No one is ever shut out."
However, like Haley, he said he knows the current administration could leave. He hopes if Senate Bill 486 is put into law, MCCSC will continue to have discussions with teacher unions.
"If they decide not to do discussion, then I will make every single school board meeting the longest school board meeting they will ever see," Farmer said. “We will bring every single item to corporate school board meetings."
Supporters of the bill
Robert Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said the bill would allow each school district to make decisions about when to have conversations and discussion. He said the IAPSS recommends districts create their own policy about when to hold meetings.
"I think sometimes when you have mandated discussion, and both parties feel compelled — not out of a desire to increase communication or to increase collaboration, but feel compelled out of a mandated legislative directive — that can be nonproductive” Taylor said.
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The IAPSS and the lawmakers only seek to better communication, he said.
“If a superintendent decides not to communicate, and I tell this to our members, they will not be superintendent very long,” Taylor said.
Changes to annual training requirements
Senate Bill 486 largely eliminates the requirement for most teachers to be trained in six areas: criminal gang awareness, identifying and reporting human trafficking, use of bleeding control kits, alternatives to physical restraint and seclusion, unhoused students, and seizure signs and symptoms.
The bill does keep the requirements for seclusion and restraint training, but only for special education teachers and school resource officers. However, individual schools could still mandate training for teachers if they choose.
Taylor said annual training mandated by the state strips local schools of the ability to decide for themselves when these trainings are necessary and for whom.
“Teachers are burdened with 12, 14, 16 hours of training every year,” Taylor said. “When you're a veteran teacher, maybe you only need a refresher every so often.”
Many who opposed most of the bill praised the training portion. Haley said she appreciated the attempt to deregulate the hours of training teachers do each year. However, eliminating them entirely is not is the answer — rather, she said, compensating teachers for doing them.