The Indiana General Assembly is still in session, and education remains a major priority. Deadlines are approaching: Tuesday, Feb. 27 marks the last day for House adoption of conference committee reports without approval and March 5 the last day for Senate adoption. March 4 and 5 mark the last days for third reading of Senate bills in the House and for House bills in the Senate, respectively.

Here are some of the bills still moving through the legislature.

HB 1002 defines antisemitism, specifically in public education. The bill’s definition is being debated as of Wednesday, Feb. 21 but was amended to be “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

The bill’s previous definition came from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the US Departments of State and of Education and was defined in 2016. It previously specified that the definition does not include “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country.” Some criticized its language out of fear that antisemitism will be equated with criticism for Israel and the state’s response to the war in Gaza.

On the other hand, some members of Indiana’s Jewish community oppose the new definition, as removing reference to the IHRA also excludes its other examples of contemporary antisemitism which would have otherwise been outlawed such as Holocaust denial or promotion of conspiracy theories.

The bill also explicitly adds religion to the state’s nondiscrimination public education clause, although antidiscrimination law already includes reference to creed, or one’s religious beliefs.

The bill passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development on Feb. 5. It was most recently amended Feb. 22.

SB 287 covers internet safety and would mandate cursive instruction. The cursive requirement is based on an amendment Sen. Jean Leising, R- Oldenburg, has pushed for several years. If the bill passes, public schools, charter schools and state-accredited private schools would be required to teach cursive writing to elementary students.

Dorothea Irwin, assistant superintendent of elementary education for Monroe County Community School Corporation, said students were exposed to cursive handwriting but that learning cursive wasn’t in the MCCSC curriculum. Teachers may teach cursive when students practice handwriting, Irwin said, but it’s not a focus.

Still, she said she believes cursive learning provides students with benefits ranging from improving fine motor skills to allowing students to read older, handwritten documents.

The bill would also require schools to develop internet safety curricula that would teach internet economics, cybersecurity and cyberbullying, among other topics.

The bill passed the Senate and was referred to the House Committee on Education on Feb. 12.

HB 1304 deals with what the bill describes as various “education matters.” Among them, it creates a literacy coaching program and defines aspects of the role. Literacy coaches, as defined in a new section of the Indiana code, would work with both teachers and students to support student literacy. They would have to complete department training and have either a master’s degree with three years of literacy education experience, or a bachelor’s degree with five years of experience.

Schools are currently required to employ literacy coaches if under 70% of their students pass IREAD-3, according to the bill’s fiscal note. As of 2023, 226 Indiana schools had under 70% of students pass and would be affected.

Literacy is a major issue in the Indiana General Assembly this session. Senate Bill 1, which passed the Indiana Senate Feb. 1 and had its first reading in the House Feb. 12, would mandate that schools hold back third graders who don’t pass literacy assessments unless they receive certain exceptions.

MCCSC schools already employ a coaching model, Irwin said. Monroe County’s coaches work in literacy, math and science, instructing teachers in often newly discovered, more effective teaching methods and strategies.

However, he said it’s also important to consider the cost of these models. The bill’s fiscal note states that literacy coaches could cost schools $72,000 annually, but it doesn’t provide funding for these programs apart from the application-based Science of Reading grants.

Monroe County’s coaching programs are largely funded by grants and referendums, Irwin said.

“But not every community would be able to pass a referendum, or the people might not have the finances to support something like that,” Irwin said. “To mandate it without any backing is a problem.”

A Feb. 22 update to the bill adds a data governance team. This team would gather and streamline inventory data for kindergarten through twelfth grade schools’ reports, data and other information.

The bill also defines how school data is reported, adds math intervention programs and promotes mastery-based education. It passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development on Feb. 12. The bill was amended and reassigned to the Committee on Appropriations on Feb. 22.

Under SB 282, school attendance officers would have to implement policy prevention measures. These measures are newly defined in the bill. School representatives, teachers and parents of truant students would have to meet to establish a plan to prevent future truancy, and habitually truant students may face referral to juvenile court.

Schools would have to immediately notify students’ parents in writing that students are required to attend school, and indeed students’ parents would be required to attend a conference to inform them about these measures.

The bill passed the Senate and was referred to the House Committee on Education on Feb. 12.

HB 1137 concerns civics education and religious education. The bill would allow students with good academic standing to leave school for up to two hours of religious instruction per week, given parental notice. In current lawprincipals must approve a written parental request, but with the bill’s passage, they’d be required to let students leave.

As of Feb. 22, the bill includes provisions from Senate Bill 50, concerning chaplains in schools. SB 50 passed the Senate but has not moved forward in the House.

School chaplains would essentially take a similar role as a counselor, providing guidance and support services to students. They’d be allowed privileged communications and would provide secular advice unless a student and a parent granted permission.

The ACLU puts out a statements opposing chaplains in schools.

The bill also requires the Department of Education to encourage civics-based reading instruction through incentives for school corporation use and awards for excellence in civics. Civics-based reading instruction is defined as reading materials for kindergarten through third grade focused on US history and civics.

The bill passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development on Feb. 12. It was amended Feb. 22.