Maine’s "controversial issues" bill dies

Maine's statehouse.

A bill in the Maine legislature that would ban public school teachers from practicing "indoctrination" — and contains a provision that could adversely affect science education — was defeated in June 2021.

House Paper 395 (PDF) would, if enacted, have required the state board of education to adopt rules to prevent public school teachers in the state from engaging in what it describes as "political, ideological[,] or religious advocacy." The rules would have required teachers to "provide students with materials supporting both sides of a controversial issue being addressed and to present both sides in a fair-minded, nonpartisan manner," where "a controversial issue" is defined as "a point made in an electoral party platform at the local, state[,] or federal level." As Ars Technica (January 29, 2019) observed in discussing a spate of similar measures in 2019, "a large number of state party platforms specifically mention evolution and climate change."

The bill was considered by the House Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, where the Maine Education Association, the Maine Principals' Association, the Maine Curriculum Leaders Association, the Maine School Boards Association, and the Maine School Superintendents Association all testified against it. The committee split, with eight legislators voting to reject the bill and five legislators voting to amend it to require (PDF) the state department of education to develop and implement professional development "regarding academic freedom and teaching about controversial and sensitive issues" and to report back to the committee, which might then recommend a requirement for school boards to adopt a policy on teaching about such issues.

The committee's majority and minority reports then proceeded to the House of Representatives, which voted 82-63-6 to accept the committee's majority report rejecting the bill on June 7, 2021. On June 8, 2021, the Senate voted 22-13 to follow suit.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.