Reaction From South Bend After Black Lawmakers Are "Booed" By GOP Colleagues Over Local Schools Bill

Feb 18, 2021

UPDATE (Feb. 19):

John Glenn School Corporation Superintendent Christopher Winchell released the following statement on Friday in response to the passage of House Bill 1367. 

To truly understand HB 1367 “Dis-annexation”, we must go back to 1979 when South Bend Community School Corporation (SBCSC) was preparing to implement a reorganization plan.  At that time, both Greene Township and Liberty Township students attended North Liberty School, a K-12 institution that was a part of SBCSC.  As reorganization plans started to form, Greene and Liberty Township residents requested to separate from SBCSC and join the Polk Lincoln Johnson Township Schools which were later renamed John Glenn School Corporation.  SBCSC agreed to release Liberty Township and North Liberty School, allowing it to merge with Polk Lincoln Johnson Township Schools, but Greene Township was required to stay with SBCSC.  This history is very important, noting that Greene Township residents have wanted to join the John Glenn Schools for over 40 years. 

The state-wide change with the open enrollment law has led to almost 40% of Greene Township students choosing to attend John Glenn School Corporation (JGSC).  A much smaller percentage still attends SBCSC.  The remaining Greene Township students attend a conglomeration of other area traditional public, public charter, and private schools (according to 2010 census data and IDOE Student Transfer Report).  The large number of Greene Township students selecting schools other than SBCSC has caused the resurgence within the Greene Township Community to again actively pursue an official change of school district.  

HB 1367 continues to surface because under the current Indiana Code, there is no ability for the residents of Greene Township to exercise “collective school choice” without SBCSC officially releasing the township from its district.  HB 1367 seeks to provide a pilot program whereby the residents of Greene Township could initiate a dis-annexation process without the official permission of SBCSC.  HB1367 would require the development of an extensive annexation proposal, approval of the proposal by the State Board of Education, and a signed petition by a majority of the Green Township registered voters.

John Glenn has always faithfully educated all of our students.  This includes our resident enrollees, transfer students from the surrounding area, as well as the students of Greene Township.  Because of the long history connected to North Liberty School, many students and families of Greene Township have a deeply rooted connection to John Glenn Schools.  

We as a district are committed to all of our students.  We embrace our historical origins while remaining committed to educational excellence.  This history includes our unique connection to Greene Township, whose students represent about 8% of our student body.  As such, we continue to pursue a collegial effort between Greene Township and SBCSC to develop an agreed upon dis-annexation plan outside of HB 1367.  We are ready to serve as a teammate with stakeholders including the General Assembly in the proposed pilot program.

PREVIOUS POST (Feb. 18):

According to multiple reports, including an extensive report by the Indianapolis Star, Black lawmakers in the Indiana Statehouse were shouted down by their Republican colleagues Thursday after they raised concerns that a bill involving some St. Joseph County schools may be discriminatory.

House Bill 1367 would allow students in Greene Township, in the western part of St. Joseph County, to leave South Bend Community Schools and attend John Glenn Schools instead.

 

Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary), both members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, objected to the bill, saying it would allow students to leave a racially diverse school district to attend primarily white schools.

 

District 6 Rep. Maureen Bauer, who represents parts of South Bend, said Republican lawmakers responded with shouts and "boos."

 

"This is my first session, [but] I have never heard anyone 'boo' a member for telling their story at the microphone or yell, 'Come on, man,' while they're speaking," Bauer said.

 

The Indianapolis Star reports Porter left the House floor "overcome with emotion" and that more lawmakers then spilled out into the hallways, where what was described as a heated exchange continued.

 

Representative Jake Teshka of St. Joseph County, who authored the bill, said allowing Greene Township students to attend John Glenn Schools would resolve transportation issues. 

 

The Star reports Teshka said he had “heard” concerns about discrimination, even if he didn’t agree with those concerns. 

 

The bill ultimately passed the Indiana House and will now move to the State Senate. South Bend Community Schools Superintendent Todd Cummings said in a statment that he was "deeply disappointed" with the House's decision.

 

"I don't believe education policy should be made at the township level, particularly policy that will negatively impact our desegregation efforts and set a harmful precedent for urban school districts across the state," Cummings wrote. "We remain committed to serving the students in Greene Township who attend South Bend Community Schools, and providing a high quality education for all students."

 

A similar measure from Greene Township failed to win approval from the Indiana legislature in past years.

 

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

 

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