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Education center of attention at update

Education center of attention at update
Education center of attention at update
Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor. Gary Byrne, who was sworn in Monday as District 47 state senator, left, responds to a question by an attendee at Saturday morning’s legislative update breakfast hosted by the Harrison County Republican Party. With him are State Rep. J. Michael Davisson, R-Salem, and State Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown.
By Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor, [email protected]

State Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, was joined by the area’s newest state legislators Saturday morning to update residents about priorities in the Statehouse during a breakfast hosted by the Harrison County Republican Party at the government center in Corydon.

State Rep. J. Michael Davisson, R-Salem, said that for the past four or so months he had been the newest state legislator, after winning a caucus to fill the vacant seat of his late father, Steve Davisson, who died in September.

That changed last week when Gary Byrne was selected during a three-person caucus to complete Erin Houchin’s seat in the Senate. Houchin resigned to focus on her campaign for Indiana’s Ninth District congressional seat, currently held by Trey Hollingsworth, who is not seeking re-election.

Byrne, R-Byrneville, said he went to the Statehouse Friday and knows where to park and the location of his office but jokingly added he doesn’t know where the rest rooms are.

He told attendees he would “work my best to represent you well.”

Engleman provided a brief summary of several bills making their way through the House, including ones aimed at returning money to taxpayers and maintaining fiscal integrity, addressing the shortage of health care workers and supporting lawful gun owners. She also touched on a bill she authored (HB 1073) in hopes of protecting Hoosiers who purchase “lemon” handicap-accessible vehicles and talked about house bills 1223, which is aimed at increasing parental participation in education, and 1134, which requires qualified schools to post certain educational activities and curricular materials on the schools’ websites.

“One thing I ask everyone (who asks her about HB 1134) is, ‘Have you read the whole bill?’ Most had read it before it was amended,” Engleman said, adding it likely will be further amended.

The state representative, who voted for HB 1134, said she has met with everybody who has had questions about the bill. When she asks for suggested revisions, she said they only say “kill the bill.”

Engleman said the bill came about because of problems in other areas of the state, including Carmel north of Indianapolis and Lake County near Chicago.

“I can’t vote for what’s just good for my counties; I have to do what’s best for the students of Indiana,” she said. “There are things being taught in school that shouldn’t be … ”

Davisson, who voted against HB 1134 and authored HB 1223, said he couldn’t add much more to what Engleman had already said.

He did encourage discussions between families and school officials.

He said more than 30 Indiana schools are designated Family Friendly, demonstrating excellence in engaging adults in their children’s education. Davisson added he realizes many schools don’t want to be family friendly.

“This bill gives power to communities instead of schools,” he said of House Bill 1223. “Most people haven’t heard about HB 1223. … ”

Byrne, a former two-term school trustee who was sworn in Monday, admitted he hadn’t read HB 1134 in its entirety yet but said, “A lot of problems (which led to the bill) could have been handled at the local level.”

Before attendees were allowed to ask questions, Engleman noted that public school teachers will not be graded again this school year due to the continued strains brought on by COVID-19.

The majority of questions centered on the bills pertaining to public education.

Karen Lopp, one of just two members serving on Harrison County school boards in attendance, asked if teachers would be required to put their lesson plans online a year in advance.

Engleman responded, “No. It’s up to school boards if they want more information (provided).”

She said most school corporations already “vastly exceed” the requirements outlined in HB 1134, which will undergo more revisions. Engleman also added that the bill actually protects teachers from misconduct allegations, which are often vague.

“There’s so much misinformation out there about this bill,” she said.

Cheryl Lone, who teaches grades 9 to 12 and said she has read HB 1134 in its entirety, questioned the portion about sexually explicit material.

“What’s considered pornographic?” Engleman replied. “Who determines that definition?”

Lone also expressed frustration for the lack of parental involvement and asked if the state would hold schools accountable if parents don’t participate as the bill state.

Again, Engleman said that’s not really an issue in her district, reminding attendees that they write bills for all parts of the state.

To Lone’s question whether voucher schools would be held to the same requirements as public schools, Engleman said she knew charter schools had been added but she would have to check.

“I don’t want to tell you wrong,” she told Lone.

Corydon resident Tony Myer said he wants teachers, parents and students to have a voice rather than feel like they are being put into a box.

Another constituent, Brenda Billner, said she finds school board agendas “difficult to understand” as they often are “abbreviated.”

“I feel much of what’s decided goes on before the meeting,” she added.

One question not related to education pertained to “23 consecutive executive orders” issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Doug Zieg-ler said it would seem the pandemic is no longer an emergency.

Davisson said $434 million “would be at risk” if Indiana was no longer declared to be in a state of emergency. He said the money would not go back into the federal budget; rather, it would be disbursed to other states still declaring an emergency situation.

Scott Fluhr, the county’s GOP chairman, noted next month’s breakfast would feature updates from Sheriff Nick Smith, Coroner Jeremy McKim and, possibly, Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk, who may have a family conflict with the March 12 event.