Transparency Under Trial: NHS students and staff share their views on potential changes to how schools operate
February 22, 2022
On a cold Wednesday afternoon, Anna Wettrick and Erin Golightly escape the chilly winter air of the streets of Indianapolis and enter the heated discussion taking place within the hallowed halls of the statehouse. The main parties in one of the hottest debates in recent memory are finally meeting, and a sea of red swarms the chamber door. Opinions, deep-rooted and unchanging, pour from the impassioned throats of the interested parties: the two Noblesville High School seniors, a group of teachers from NHS and other schools, and one prominent state senator. The words of all members of the gathering echo through the vaulted hall, reverberating and layering, each pleading to simply be heard. It is the accumulation of months of conflict, and some of the main players have finally come face-to-face.
The reason for this passionate debate? Indiana State House Bill 1134, a focus of local headlines for the last several weeks. Authored by Indiana House Representatives Tony Cook, J.D. Prescott, and Chuck Goodrich, the bill takes aim at concerns expressed by many about everything from the content being taught in Indiana schools, to parent involvement in curriculum and mental health services, to filtering content within school libraries.
“There definitely is a disconnect,” Cook told the Indianapolis Star this month. “There’s a disconnect about transparency, there’s a disconnect about parental involvement in curriculum, curriculum oversight with school boards. So what we tried to do was span that gap and try to stop some of the conflict.” [The Mill Stream reached out to Cook’s office, but he did not respond to multiple attempts to comment on this story.]
Other interested parties have also voiced their support of the bill and believe it to benefit Hoosier students, such as Micah Beckwith, a pastor at Life Church in Noblesville.
“It’s not a perfect bill,” said Beckwith. “It’s a good start. The thing that I appreciate about it is that it’s just giving parents a little bit more of an insight into what’s going on in the classroom.”
Parental involvement lies at the center of the bill, a prime catalyst for its divisive effects.
“[Parents] have every right to know everything that’s going on in education,” said Beckwith, “They have a right to make their voices heard. Ultimately it’s their job to raise kids.”
Elijah Condellone, speaker for Arise America, a local political organization, also backed the bill’s intent, emphasizing his interest in promoting parental involvement in schools.
“Parents need to be involved in everything that their kids are learning in schools,” said Condellone. “They need to be asking questions, they need to be involved with having conversations with teachers too.”
On February 16th, a new amendment—written by Sen. Linda Rodgers— seriously altered important facets of the bill. Even the , House Bill 1134, and its proposed limitations on content, has sparked a flurry of concerns, discussions, and notes from NHS staff and students alike.
“I don’t want to leave behind a fractured history,” said Golightly at the February 9th statehouse protest. “If you take away the things that make people uncomfortable, that discomfort […] or even when they talk about a sense of guilt. That guilt is something that makes history not repeat itself.”
Lucy Misetic, a teacher-librarian at Noblesville High School, believes there has been a spike in interest over the school’s library, possibly due to recent controversy surrounding content within public libraries.
“I think people are just curious,” Misetic said. “There’s been a lot more news about what’s happening in school libraries, so I’ve received inquiries, but not necessarily complaints.”
Misetic says at NHS, the books available at the library are mostly catered towards students and the things they are interested in.
“We try to keep things as appropriate as possible, but everybody has a different level of appropriateness. Because we are a choice-driven library where students get to choose, we do have a bigger variety of books than a typical classroom might have,” Misetic said. “We do not allow things like hardcore elicit pornography, […] but we do have stuff that might be graphic in nature just because that’s what teens deal with.”
Misetic wants the school library to be a place where students can learn about the world around them.
“I don’t require students to read books about things which make them uncomfortable,’ Misetic said. “Having books that are windows and mirrors to other worlds is very important.”
In addition to limiting content in school libraries, HB 1134 could alter the way that history is addressed and taught at schools.
“I think for me personally, teaching social studies and teaching US history, which a lot of this legislation is focusing on, would alter the historical stories and truths that we teach and I teach in my classroom every day,” said NHS social studies teacher Hannah Dwyer. “It would make it really hard to include multiple perspectives, which is something that is written in our current state standards and written in our curriculum, at least on the high school level.”
Golightly expressed apprehension about the expertise of educators being disregarded.
“Our teachers went to school to learn how to do this,” Golightly said. “Most parents did not. They don’t know what teaching is, they don’t know how hard it is, they don’t know what goes into it.”
Misetic has similar concerns about inexperienced individuals regulating the field of study she worked so hard to master.
“I have a master’s degree in Library Science. I’ve studied libraries, I know collection development, I’ve looked at everything,” said Misetic. “I understand what students need, so when somebody from the outside steps in and tries to overtake that, it’s very frustrating because we have a level of expertise, and I wish they would allow us to be the professionals that we are.”
NHS principal Dr. Craig McCaffrey’s main area of concern with the HB 1134 is the curricular materials advisory committee the bill allows parents to request on a district level. The committee would submit recommendations regarding curriculum and other educational content to the governing body of a school corporation.
“To explain something to someone that’s not an educator takes a lot longer. We don’t have a problem doing it, but it takes longer because they don’t understand the ins and the outs,” said McCaffrey. “It would be the equivalent of before a heart surgeon had to do heart surgery, he had to come down to a committee and explain why he was doing what he was doing. How long would that take?”
As a supporter of the bill, Condellone holds worries about the current school curriculums, which he believes the bill could affect.
“I like aspects of [the bill,]” said Condellone. “The things that I like about it is language that talks that a qualified school entity or corporation cannot teach on the basis of sex, race, religion, and so forth, that one race is inherently superior to another. Those are the types of things that we want to address through the legislation.”
Other prominent individuals whose roles at NHS may be impacted by HB 1134 expressed uneasiness about its proposed changes.
“It’s impossible to have open and honest conversations if you have to only talk about specific and school approved things,” said NHS junior Maddie Ragsdale, president of the Noblesville Democrats club.
Several students at NHS say they have worries about the bill’s possible effects on their educational experience.
“Students deserve an education based on historical facts,” said senior Nate Cook. “If students aren’t able to learn historical facts about important things like discrimination, then they won’t have the full understanding needed to be an engaged citizen in a society that has many perspectives and points of view.”
As a result of the bill’s movement through the House, Cook found himself speaking up in light of the controversies surrounding the issues in the proposed changes.
“I have contacted my state senator to voice my opinion on legislation that has been presented in front of the State Assembly,” the NHS senior said, “and I encourage my classmates to do the same.”
Other members of the Noblesville community agree, with a group of Noblesville School’s staff members and students gathering to protest at the Indiana statehouse earlier in the month. Student protestors argue that the bill would create a hostile work environment for teachers, creating a feeling of distrust in the school system.
“I think it would by and large impact the atmosphere in a classroom,” said NHS senior Delaney Shoemaker, one of the protesters. “It would be very distrustful because teachers will have to constantly watch what they say to make sure that they don’t say something that could be construed by a parent, by a student, so that they could be criminalized. I think it will make school a very distrustful environment, and very divisive. That’s not something that I want to be a part of.”
“[The bill] demands a lot out of [teachers] who already [aren’t] respected on a higher level,” Wettrick said.
Another major problem with the bill, according to student protestors, is the fact that it will take away the ability for classrooms to examine multiple perspectives on contentious issues.
“Parents are going to have whole control, without any other outside sources, of what their child is learning so that they are raised to think a certain way versus being able to have outside perspectives and differences of thought through school,” Wetrick said.
Senior Alexa Parra believes the bill could have far-reaching impacts on students.
“This affects all students, all ages of students, and everyone should feel strongly about this because even if you’re a senior, even if you’re going to graduate soon, it’ll affect your little sisters and brothers,” said Parra. “It’ll affect the future of America.”
Another concern around the proposed changes brought by House Bill 1134 are centered around the legislation potentially driving tomorrow’s teachers out of our state. Some students who are planning on pursuing a career in education believe that the bill would deter them from getting a teaching license in the state of Indiana.
“One thing we’re worried about out of this is that teachers could be sued individually if they say something someone doesn’t like. If it makes it harder for people to want to be teachers, they say, ‘It’s not worth being a teacher,’ then it makes it harder for me to find teachers. What’s happening now, we have a mass exodus of educators in general,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey’s worries about the bill intensifying the teacher shortage are echoed by NHS’ teachers union president and math teacher Amanda Giordano.
“We have seen colleges shut down their education programs simply due to a lack of enrollment,” said Giordano. “I have an immense fear that bills like HB 1134, which undermines the professionalism of educators, will exacerbate the teacher shortage.”
NHS senior Rileigh Lancaster is attending Ball State University and majoring in education. The only thing holding her back from teaching in Indiana? HB 1134.
“If the bill was to pass in Indiana, but not in another state, say Illinois or Ohio for example, I would probably take my teaching license elsewhere, out of the state of Indiana because it’s something that I cannot morally agree with,” Lancaster said. “I could have parents or other teachers or students complain about me in a way that would put my job at risk.”
Though this bill may dissuade Lancaster from teaching in the Hoosier state, she maintains her devotion to a future in education elsewhere.
“I want to be a teacher because I’ve always had a passion for working with young people,” Lancaster said. “I want to be the teacher that I could have used when I was that age. I want to be a resource and I want to help kids through their adolescence and a great way to do that is to be a teacher and connect with them through content.”
Junior Cass Henson also sees herself pursuing a career in education after graduating from NHS. She has been inspired by her favorite teachers to go down this path in hopes of impacting students the way they impacted her.
“Personally, I want to provide a safe space for future students,” said Henson. “I want to come back here and teach at Noblesville, and while Noblesville does often offer safe spaces like the counseling office, I […] just [want to] provide a really safe space for all sorts of people, especially in my classroom no matter what I end up teaching.”
Like Lancaster, Henson sees the bill as being damaging to students.
“[Students are] not going to know the whole story,” said Henson, “and that’s very detrimental to their understanding of how the world functions […]. When they get thrown out into the real world […], they’re not going to get the full story and then they’re going to have to educate themselves, when we as educators and as a school system should have done that for them. We shouldn’t be sugarcoating our history. We shouldn’t be sugarcoating how everything has happened.”
Concerns surrounding the bill extend outside of the classroom as well, as NHS’s student cultural unions ponder what changes to the school environment could mean for them.
“The whole point of not just our club, but the Black Student Union and the Latinx Student Union, is to talk about everybody’s background and our cultures,” said Olivia Chingis, president of the newly founded Asian Student Union. “So if we can’t do that, then there’s no point in these clubs. The point of these clubs is to have a community, and I think everybody who is going to be joining this type of club is going to have similar experiences.”
The NHS Asian Student Union was founded earlier this year to provide a place where Asian students at the school could convene and find community.
“I think the club is a good way for all of us Asian students to embrace our ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures, and traditions, and come together and share all of that, then come together and unite as one student front,” said NHS sophomore Katie Wong, a member of the Asian Student Union.
Similar sentiments are heard in the Latinx Student Union, another of the culture-focused clubs at NHS. To many of the students who participate in these organizations, a prominent worry that accompanies the implementation of HB 1134 is the lack of a voice in their education.
“I think the bill is dangerous for education, I think it can really impact the student’s view on the world and it can negatively affect the relationship with their parents even because they have so little say in what their parents do with their curriculum,” said Daniella Tuesca, Vice President of the Latinx Student Union. “I think that it will mostly make them feel not heard.”
To these students, the bill does not promote confidence in their future educational experiences. Instead, uneasiness and concerned questioning fill the air, leaving unanswered inquiries driving the conversation.
“If it does pass, would we even have a club?” said Chingis. “If it passes, then there’s no club. We’re going to be talking about culture. If the bill were passed, it would silence my voice. I deserve to be heard.”