Columnists

Letter to the editor: Writer questions school superintendent

Dear Editor,

Anyone wanting to keep politics out of schools in Noblesville can keep waiting while our lame-duck superintendent has apparently decided to jump into the SB167 political debate with both feet. Why don’t I just cut to the chase and state simply the lies and misrepresentations of this bill by the superintendent are only rivaled by the deception around Panorama surveys, which has been affirmed that parents were misled about how confidential their student’s information truly is. There are so many inaccuracies in the statement just released; that it is hard to decide where to start. So I’ll start with the first point she made.

She claims that SB167 “prohibits teaching accurate historical facts.” I wonder why Dr. Niedermeyer appears to have an issue with requiring schools to “remain impartial to teaching curricular materials or conducting educational activities” (IC 20-33-2(c))? We already know some teachers have placed their personal biases into their lessons. What is so bad about a bill prohibiting any education that instructs, “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently superior or inferior to another sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation” (IC 20-33-2(a))? We have already seen English assignments doing just this, and the response to reporting the complaint was an excuse from administrators about context. When is it ever ok that you tell a student because they’re black or Muslim that they’re inferior to white Christians? When is it ever ok for a teacher to instruct that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same . . . (previously stated identifiers)” (IC 20-33-2(a-6))? This has already happened in Noblesville schools when a speaker hired by the superintendent told white students that they were responsible for prejudices they might not realize they had and for the actions they hadn’t taken part in. This has been brought to administrator’s attention before and is another example why this bill was written. I wonder why a superintendent would claim that any of these prohibited situations keep any teacher from accurately teaching history when the bill specifically states, “nothing in this chapter may be construed so as to exclude the teaching of historical injustices committed against any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation” (IC 20-33-2(d))? It is rather interesting that someone who would champion diversity and inclusion would be against anything to protect from segregating students based on any identifier, such as what happened a few years ago when Superintendent Niedermeyer hired the aforementioned speaker.

The second claim is that it “prohibit(s) teaching of general sociology concepts.” If that statement is meant to lament the requirement for parental consent before discussing sexuality with students, that isn’t a new concept. If she is referring to the need for parental consent before, “provid(ing) a student with ongoing or recurring consultation, collaboration, or intervention services for mental, social-emotional, or psychological health issues; or refer a student to community resources for . . .” (IC 20-34-3-27 (a)) more of the same. What exactly is the issue with parental involvement with the health decisions of their children? Especially when the bill goes on to say, “this section may not be construed to require . . . to obtain parental consent to identify a potential health issue of a student or to provide an emergency response in a crisis situation” (IC 20-34-3-27 (f)). This public statement went on to celebrate parental involvement in schools. Still, it appears as though by making the other points, there is a limit to the acceptable parental involvement.

Also, since the second point she made seems to refer to SEL education, that brings me directly to the concern made in point four that this bill would “redirect time and money away from student academics to manage increased government bureaucracy.” It is fascinating that Dr. Niedermeyer is now concerned with finances; after the board voted a Panorama contract extension for six years at $26,000 per contract year at their most recent board meeting on January 11th. Panorama has promised that survey results would be confidential and result in an 11 percent increase in academic performance. I wonder if that $26,000 a year is money well spent when test scores have dropped from 68 percent in 2018 to 40 percent English & Language Arts and Math ILEARN passing rates in 2021? Sure, we could keep blaming the pandemic response and e-learning for the decreasing scores. If that is the case, those results would have been 29 percent without the Panorama surveys and a much greater issue. Why would she worry about the financial toll of placing curriculum on the internet for easy access for all parents when she doesn’t seem to worry about the $26,000 a year wasted on Panorama without the promised results. Perhaps we could use some of the $5.5 million allocated by the federal government through the ESSER grants for this instead of paying more than $4 million for a new tennis facility? Why is it that the financial concerns of a lame-duck superintendent are limited to a political statement when Noblesville schools reportedly has not ever funded its Fueled For School program, and private money is entirely responsible for the program’s success? Maybe this scorn is misplaced over financial concerns. However, it sounds pretty disingenuous if the extent of the increased fiscal costs would come from putting education materials on the website for parents to have access to and be more involved.

Perhaps those financial concerns might come from worry over her third point about “threaten(ing) to criminalize teachers . . . that (are) already undervalued . . . ” Let’s start by the most apparent lie; Noblesville teachers specifically, could not be more appreciated, especially by those who speak out against questionable curriculum. Parents would not still send students to Noblesville schools if they did not value the teachers working there when there are options to transfer districts, private schools funded by school vouchers, and homeschooling options. I know of five families, in recent years, that have relocated to Noblesville from out of state because of the school system and teachers. That has even been expressed to Dr. Niedermeyer and administrators. So this disingenuous line holds no water. To the next point regarding potential financial woes, the bill states that a parent and an employee may file a complaint about a violation of the above-referenced issues. I wonder, did she read the process it takes to, in her words, “criminalize” a teacher found in IC 20-33-3? The principal first reviews the complaint, and if dismissed, there is an appeal process that goes first through the superintendent, then the school board and only after that, allows for a civil action to be filed. Suppose any of the aforementioned positions agree that there was a violation. In that case, that person(s) in that position will “include a description of how the qualified school will remedy the violation” (IC 20-33-3 (b-2-c). Might the first question, on this matter, have something to do with why a parent or employee would go so far as to appeal three times and seek legal representation over a complaint. Rather than fear of turning a teacher into a criminal, let alone that it is a civil action, not criminal?

As for the possible disservice to the educational reputation of Indiana, most would think the downward trend and failing test scores does that all by itself? This press release discusses the right to request curriculum, representation on curriculum review teams, and digital classrooms that parents can review. If everything just mentioned worked so well and was in place, what is the issue with it being required for parents to have access to curriculum materials? Might it be because those materials are only available after they’ve already been used instead of beforehand. Prior knowledge of curriculum materials would allow a chance to opt a child out of a 90-minute presentation, that took place in a Noblesville classroom, on why all white students are inherently racist and privileged? Or could the issue with requiring parental involvement be because the last curriculum review committee for social studies consisted of only two parents out of 24 committee members. Not to mention that both parents were connected to the school by more than their child’s enrollment. This bill would require that 40 percent of positions be parents, equal to 40 percent of positions for teachers and administrators. Those members would not only be approved by the school board but would “ensure that the materials and activities are representative of the community’s interests and aligned with Indiana academic standards” (IC 20-26-12.5-5(a)). Is there a problem with teachers and parents working together in an equal capacity to better the children and be governed by the elected school board? Or could the fact that the parental account to the digital classroom does not have access to see all that the student is doing in the said classroom be the cause of the opposition? As for the “significant enhancements to the curriculum area of our website,” there have been improvements. There are many grateful parents because of that. However, simply posting the academic standards and units of instruction isn’t giving access to the course materials, which is what parents need to be more involved in their child’s education. I understand that the call for these changes came in the last six to eight months, and that is a lot of work to do in that time. That is why this bill states, “not later than June 30, 2023, and June 30 of each year thereafter, each qualified school shall post on the qualified school’s internet web site, in a manner accessible to parents . . . all curricular materials and a summary of educational activities” (IC 20-30-17-4(b)). One would think that 18 months would be plenty of time.

Now there is one thing we can entirely agree on; “School legislation impacts not only the students of today but the success of our state in the future. I urge the Noblesville community to find your legislators and make your voices heard in support of students, teachers, and a strong Indiana”. This is absolutely an agreeable stance from everyone. The issue is why any superintendent would present SB167 as not allowing the teaching of accurate historical facts, criminalizing teachers, and being financially burdensome. These assertions are so inaccurate that they border on lies. So I’ll leave with a few last questions. What is wrong with more parental involvement in student education? What is so financially burdensome or criminal if our excellent teachers don’t place personal bias into their lessons or teach beyond the historical injustices? Are we to understand from this statement that Dr. Niedermeyer is against this bill and therefore in favor of teaching that people are subordinate, dominant, or moral character is predetermined by a particular identifier? Does this apparent opposition to SB167 also signify if a teacher crosses a line that there is no accountability for such actions? Or that a school may administer psychological services in a non-emergent situation without parental consent? That is what this bill is striving to prevent. Finally, I can only hope that Dr. Niedermeyer read this bill before jumping to such conclusions and disseminating them to the public from a position of leadership and authority, despite having already announced her retirement.

Tim Cortrecht

Noblesville