AG Rokita digs in on the ‘Eyes on Education’ portal amid growing opposition


Since it was launched Feb. 5, the Eyes on Education webpage has courted controversy but Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office – which developed and displays the webpage on its official state government website – said more submissions will be posted in the future and “nothing will be taken down.”

The controversy over the Eyes on Education webpage is focused on the portal, which enables the public to upload images of class materials allegedly used in Indiana schools that they find objectionable. Links to the submissions are displayed on the webpage next to the school corporations from which the documents are alleged to have originated.

Most of the submissions currently posted to the page are from unidentified sources and no details are provided as to how or why the documents were used. That has brought a barrage of criticism since the page went live.

Educators and schools said they were not notified about the webpage in advance or asked to verify the submissions, according to reporting by Chalkbeat Indiana. Also, they said the materials were taken out of context and portrayed in a false light or no longer in use.

Currently, the webpage lists 13 Indiana school corporations – all public and mostly from Central Indiana – and the Indiana University School of Medicine. The webpage gives no explanation of the process for reviewing the submissions and selecting which ones to post.

 Calls for removal, but support, too

Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said in a statement the portal was disrupting education in Indiana.

“His (Rokita’s) decision to launch a website targeting our public schools is nothing but a transparent attempt to create division among parents and educators,” Gambill said in a statement. “Therefore, we are calling for the immediate removal of this site.”

The Indiana Citizen asked the attorney general’s office how many submissions had been entered since the portal went live and when the responses from the schools would be posted. A spokesperson from the attorney general’s office replied with a statement, defending the portal. The spokesperson said the webpage was providing evidence to back the concerns of parents about what was being taught in Indiana schools but that administrators, teachers and the media previously had dismissed.

“The types of people complaining now are the same ones who said there was no indoctrination going on in Indiana schools at all,” the spokesperson said in the statement. “Remember, for example, the cries that (critical race theory) was not being taught?

“Now these same types are saying, ‘Well, the items on the Portal are no LONGER being taught, or we fired that teacher, or we fired that vendor, or we retired that policy.’ They just proved our point and elevated even further the value of the office in education matters,” the spokesman continued.

Suzanne Gallagher, national executive director of Parents’ Rights in Education, was unfamiliar with the Eyes on Education portal but said she was interested in the idea and wanted to learn more.

“It sounds like a good first step to open up the conversation,” Gallagher said.

Founded in Oregon in 2011, Parents’ Rights in Education advocates for parents to direct their children’s education in public schools and for the return of “community values” to the classroom, according to its website. Also, it says it rejects the idea that schools have any right “to indoctrinate our children with extreme fringe politics” and it opposes the “dangerous obsession to force extreme sexualization and racist doctrine on our children.”

Gallagher, who has led the organization for six years, said state legislatures are increasingly deciding educational policy and curriculum, which is preventing parents from having input over what their local schools teach and how those schools treat the students. Her group, she said, is concerned about legislators and “radical far left organizations” pushing their agendas in schools regarding gender identity, sex education and discipline of students.

“We’re criticized because we think it’s the role of the school board to make those choices,” Gallagher said. “They’re supposed to listen to the local community and reflect the values of the local community. This is what local control is. One of the most important roles of a school board is to reflect the wishes of the local community.”

Kaitie Rector, co-founder of the nonpartisan grassroots political organization MADVoters Indiana, agreed with Gallagher about the importance of local control. But, she sees the Eyes of Education webpage as “centralization and overreach” by the attorney general’s office.

The portal, Rector said, will encourage parents to post their submissions on the webpage, rather than reaching out to their local schools and sharing their concerns.  Moreover, teachers are being put under more pressure by the portal, she said. Teachers are mandated to follow the state’s academic standards and rather than being able to address the concerns of a local parental group, they could have the attorney general’s office investigating and potentially penalizing them because of the submissions made to the portal.

“My concern is that if it stays up, it just further fans the flames of that extremism and that paranoia,” Rector said of the webpage, adding that she thinks it could become an echo chamber attracting like-minded people and legitimizing their “extreme” fears and concerns. “It’s just going to sort of keep amplifying those concerns. Again, those concerns, I think, are based on hearsay, misinformation and things that just simply aren’t true.”

Conflicts are impacting curriculum, report says

The webpage says the attorney general’s office will review the submissions and may contact the individual who uploaded the documents or images for more information. In addition, the webpage notes the attorney general’s office may use its “investigative tools” if there appears to be a violation of Indiana law.

In the statement, the attorney general’s spokesperson said the schools’ responses to the submissions would be posted on the webpage as well but none have been posted to date.

“To be clear, the complainers’ validated information will be published as well, but nothing will be taken down, so the Portal will actually help teachers and school administrators because it will expose misinformation that can naturally exist amongst the public,” the spokesperson said in the statement. “The Portal is a valuable tool for parents to see and report what is going on in their schools so that they and other parents can stop indoctrination more quickly and can ensure bad history doesn’t repeat itself in districts where such policies are claimed to be retired.”

The portal comes at a time when, according to a November 2022 report from the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, “public schools are increasingly targets of political conflict.”

Based on a survey of 682 high school principals from blue, purple and red communities across the country, the “Educating for a Diverse Democracy” report found more than two-thirds of principals reported “substantial political conflict” on hot-button issues during the 2021-2022 school year.

Parents and other community members, the principals said, wanted to limit or challenge the teaching about issues of race and racism; policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ student rights; access to particular books in the school library; and social emotional learning. As a result, the report said, there were declines in support for teaching about race, racism, racial and ethnic diversity.

The UCLA report also said principals in purple (politically divided) communities were “far more likely” than those in red (Republican-leaning) or blue (Democrat-leaning) communities to report “acute levels of community conflict.” It also said that such increased political conflict was often a result of “intentional and organized efforts that have targeted Purple communities in particular.”

“We have documented ways that political conflict, directed toward public schools, has led educators in Purple and Red communities to retreat from supporting practices associated with educating toward a diverse democracy,” the authors of the report wrote.

However, Gallagher, of Parents’ Rights in Education, does not believe the curriculum is focused on preparing students to be productive adults. Rather, the agenda is to drive a wedge between parents and children, she said, noting school policies that, according to her, prohibit school counselors from sharing information from the students with their parents.

“Every single taxpayer should be angry about this because kids are literally graduating and they can’t write, they can’t read,” Gallagher said. “But (those students) know all about systemic racism and oppression and oppressors, which has nothing to do with academics.”

Rector, of MADVoters Indiana, has the opposite concerns about curriculum. She believes the Indiana attorney general’s webpage could dilute the “richness of classroom instruction” in the state.

“People say, ‘Well, we just want to get back to reading, writing and arithmetic,’ but this is the 21st century and we’re preparing students for the 21st century and they deserve a holistic education,” Rector said. “You can’t simplify a lot of these things down to reading, writing arithmetic … because that implies that things can be just so simple. It’s not. There are shades of gray.”

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.

By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

February 11, 2024