Democrats are poised to kill a resolution from Rep. Katrina J. Smith (R-Palermo) that would have instructed the Maine Department of Education to adopt rules that block public school teachers from engaging in political, ideological, or religious indoctrination.
“This resolve protects every viewpoint, because it keeps every personal opinion out of the classroom,” Rep. Smith said in her testimony before the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.
Smith’s resolution would have instructed the State Board of Education to adopt clear rules and enforcement mechanisms to ensure “appropriate and professional ethical behavior by teachers” by prohibiting them “from using the classroom to engage in political, ideological, or religious advocacy.”
More specifically, the bill lays out a number of guidelines to which teachers would be required to adhere “during class time or while otherwise operating within the scope of employment as a teacher.”
Those rules included a prohibition on educators introducing any controversial issue that is not germane to the topic of the course being taught and from advocating in a partisan manner.
The resolve also called for a ban on teachers endorsing, supporting or opposing elected or appointed officials, candidates or nominees for public office, as well as any legislation, regulation, court case, or executive action.
Under this legislation, educators would also be prohibited 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.”
Smith described the purpose of LD 1589 as “preventing K-12 classrooms from becoming partisan political platforms, and to keep their captive youthful audiences from being victims of partisan political indoctrination by their teachers.”
Last year, the Maine Wire obtained secretly recorded audio from a public school in Maine that showed a teacher subjecting an 8th grader to a bizarre anti-Trump political rant.
In school districts across Maine and the country, parents have questioned overt political and ideological displays, like Black Lives Matter and transgender flags hung in elementary classrooms.
Smith told the Maine Wire that she has seen through her own children’s experience how political ideology has infiltrated Maine public school classrooms. She said it makes sense to set baseline standards of conduct for teachers where bringing politics into the classroom is concerned.
“I’m just a very common sense kind of person,” Smith said. “I always say, why are teachers as employees any different than any other employee anywhere else. Standards need to be met. Break those standards, and there’s consequences.”
Smith has found the vehement opposition to her resolution from groups like the Maine Education Association (MEA) and the Maine Principals Association (MPA) surprising.
Grace Leavitt, the head of the MEA, testified against Smith’s bill in person.
“Districts have policies,” Leavitt said.
She said the major teachers unions in Maine also have policies that ensure indoctrination is not happening.
The bill, which would have prohibited religious indoctrination in public schools, also drew opposing testimony from the Maine Chapter of the “Freedom from Religion Foundation”.
“I think they’ve lost what education is,” Smith said. “They’ve wrapped it up with so many ideological thoughts that they can no longer see learning. It just confuses me why it’s such a big deal overall.”
The proposal received a divided report during the May 23 work session in the Committee on Education and Culture Affairs, with State Sen. Jim Libby (R-Cumberland) the only Republican joining the majority’s “ought not pass” recommendation. However, Libby said he joined the majority report because he believes Christian prayer, Christianity, and comparative religion should still be taught in public schools.
“I hope people know that we are fighting the battle here for them. We haven’t given up on exposing whats happening in our schools,” Smith said.
“We’ll keep pushing and hope for a majority next time,” she said. “We can achieve the goal of these bills passing the next time, even if they don’t pass this time.”