A bill to prohibit teachers from engaging in political, religious or ideological advocacy discussions with students was unanimously rejected by a legislative committee Thursday.
LD 589, from Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Bradley, sought to limit the types of classroom discussions teachers can facilitate — in an effort to prevent “political or ideological indoctrination” — according to the language of the bill.
It would have barred teachers from “endorsing, supporting, or opposing,” court cases and presidential actions, or from “segregating students according to race, or singling out one racial group of students as responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.”
Under the bill, teachers could facilitate controversial discussions but only if the topic relates specifically to what they’re teaching. In a bill amendment submitted Wednesday night, Lockman defined “controversial subject matter” that shouldn’t be talked about as, for example, “a point made in the most recent electoral party platform of any party that is qualified for the ballot.”
A dozen teachers and school administrators decried the bill as an overreach during a public hearing earlier this month.
On Thursday, members the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee generally agreed that the issue is best handled at the local level, rather than with legislation. They voted unanimously “ought not to pass,” which effectively dooms the bill. Legislation with unanimous “ought not to pass” recommendations very rarely is resurrected in the House or Senate.
Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R-Milford, said Lockman’s bill “goes against the core belief” that this issue should be “handled by [local school] administration.”
“It’s not a major issue. It’s a small issue that happens, and it’s not to be tolerated,” Drinkwater said. “We want controversial issues brought up in the classroom — that’s a good place for it to be discussed. We just don’t want one-sided philosophy taught.”
The way forward, everyone agreed, “is not with legislation,” Drinkwater said.
Instead, Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, said the Maine School Management Association has agreed to “send correspondence out to all of school boards … to address this concern.”