Legislature ponders restrictions on discussions of race, gender and sex

Teaching could get more complicated next year if several controversial state bills make it past the governor’s desk.

The bills mostly reflect Republican concerns about teaching anything having to do with race or sex, and have so far most have won the support of Rim Country’s legislative delegation.

Two bills last week passed the state senate. That includes a bill to give parents more power to examine curriculum and school library books – and perhaps force school boards and teachers to make changes if they object.

Lawmakers who back the bills say they want to make sure that teachers and libraries don’t provide kids information that will make them feel bad about their race or violate parental standards and beliefs when it comes to gender and sexuality. However, critics say the new requirements could give many teachers – and school boards – pause when addressing issues like the history of the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement – as well as current debates about topics like the criminal justice system.

Education groups have doggedly opposed a host of bills that would dictate what happens in the classroom. That includes even things like a ban on mask mandates in schools, COVID restrictions and even adding the COVID vaccines to the list of school-mandated shots once the Food and Drug Administration gives the shots final approval.

Lawmakers are also considering a bill to reduce the qualifications for getting a teaching credential, in an effort to cope with the growing, statewide teacher shortage.

Meanwhile, the debate about whether to use a portion of the district’s $5 billion surplus to increase funding for schools this week stalled progress on the adoption of the state budget. Arizona has among the worst-funded public school systems in the country on a per-student basis – as well as the largest average class sizes and among the lowest teacher salaries.

However, lawmakers are considering a dramatic increase in eligibility for school vouchers, which provide taxpayer funding for private school tuition and home schooling. Voters two years ago rejected a similar expansion.

So here’s a rundown on some of the new laws likely to affect how teachers deal with potentially controversial topics in the classroom.

SB 1159: Teacher credential requirements

Allows anyone who completes any teacher preparation program to get a standard credential. Supporters say it will allow more people to enter the teaching profession to relieve the shortage. Critics say it will allow untrained people into the classroom, making many problems worse.

HB 2439: Parent review of library books

This would require schools to create a process for parents to review books as well as giving parents a list of any materials their children had checked out of the school library. It also requires schools to post on their website a list of any materials they purchase for the library or use in the classroom. Supporters say it empowers parents but detractors say it will lead to book bans and censorship. Besides, they said parents can already access library materials and see what books their kids check out.

SB 2161: Parent access to school records

Requires schools to post student learning and teacher training materials online and requires teachers to post any materials dealing with race, ethnicity, sexuality or gender online at least 72 hours before it’s taught in the classroom. The bill narrowly failed a Senate vote, but is expected to be revived. Supporters say it will let parents know what their children are learning on sensitive subjects and give them a chance to object before it’s too late. Critics fear many teachers will simply avoid any hint of those subjects for fear of controversy and give some parents an effective veto over important topics. The education advocacy group Save our Schools called the measure “a harmful bill that would have created undue burden, more red tape and onerous requirements for our teachers.”

SB1412: Penalties for teachers

The bill would ban the teaching of topics involving race, gender and sex. Teachers who violated the provisions could lose their teaching credential and districts would face a penalty of up to $5,000 for any violation. Advocates say it would prevent teachers from shaming students about their race and advocating for controversial positions. Critics say it would prompt more teachers to leave the profession and contains such vague wording that teachers won’t know what’s covered.

HB2495: Ban on sexually explicit material

The ban would ban students from using “sexually explicit” material in public school, even “classical literature” or books for college courses, unless they have written parental consent. Advocates says it empowers parents. Critics say it will deter teachers from teaching art and literature and “drown parents in permission slips,” according to the Arizona Education Association.

HCR2001: Constitutional ban on teaching about race and discrimination

Requires the secretary of state to place on the ballot so voters can decide to amend the state constitution to bar the teaching of Critical Race Theory and racial discrimination. Awaits a House floor vote.

(1) comment

2rusty

The six bills covered in this article are a perfect illustration of what's wrong with public education today. It doesn't have to be this complicated. If all parents would insist that schools get back to the STEM principles of education and leave it at that, our kids wouldn't be ranked 38th in math and 24th in science in world rankings.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.