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Lawmakers consider bill to allows religious education during school hours

A Bible, a rosary and a crucifix sit on a wooden table.
Kirkwood
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Wikimedia
House Bill 1137 would require principals to collaborate with parents and religious education groups to decide the most convenient time for students to leave class.

Public schools could be required to let students take time out of the school day for religious instruction. Indiana lawmakers are considering a plan to let students get faith-based education for up to two hours per week.

House Bill 1137 would require principals to collaborate with parents and religious education groups to decide the most convenient time for students to leave class.

The religious instruction would take place off school property and would require private transportation. No state money would be used.

Joel Penton is the CEO of LifeWise Academy, an Ohio-based organization that offers release-time religious education. He said the popularity of programs like his are growing because parents want religious education options for their children.

Penton added LifeWise instructs nearly 30,000 students in more than 12 states during their lunch and recess. He emphasized that LifeWise does not disrupt students’ time in other classes.

“We think all Indiana parents should have the choice to enroll their students,” he said.

Christopher Lagoni, executive director of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association, said the association is neutral on the bill. He did ask lawmakers to include exceptions for days when students are scheduled to take standardized tests.

READ MORE: How do I follow Indiana’s legislative session? Here’s your guide to demystify the process

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Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) expressed concern that faith-based education programs could lobby schools to release large numbers of students at the same time. He said that could be detrimental to some students’ schedules. He also said he is worried about potential lawsuits.

“I will vote for this, but the first time one of these organizations sues a school district because they didn’t get the time they wanted, I’ll be here with a proposal to change it,” he said.

Lawmakers were also supportive of an amendment to the bill that incentivizes civics education. The language came from another bill that the House Education Committee will not have time to hear during this year’s session. A 2021 law added civics education to the state's sixth grade curriculum.

Rep. Elizabeth Rowray (R-Yorktown) said the amendment requires the Indiana Department of Education to determine standards of excellence in civics education, establish a civics seal program and create a civics seal award.

“We, as citizens, always hear about our rights. My rights, my rights, my rights,” she said. “I think it’s about time that we got back to what are our responsibilities as citizens for our country.”

The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously and will be heard next by the full House.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

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Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.