PHOENIX — It is now up to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to decide whether parents can sue teachers who they believe have “usurped” their rights.
The governor will also have the final say on whether school librarians should tell parents which books their children are consulting.
Monday’s party line votes by the Republican-controlled House to allow lawsuits against educators came over objections from two Democrats, one a current teacher and the other a former teacher, who said they were specifically concerned about Bill 2161. It’s the action taken by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, that guarantees parents access to school records as well as surveys given to children in the classroom.
But it’s the verbiage about lawsuits from parents who may be upset about what their children hear they say affects them.
As sent to Ducey after prior Senate approval, the measure states that schools “shall not interfere with or usurp the fundamental right of parents to direct education, education, health care and mental health.” of their children”.
In fact, HB 2161 is even wider than that. It applies that same restriction – and the same right of parents to sue – to any official at any level of government.
And the legislation says that once a legal action is brought, then the onus is on the public employee to prove both that the action is “essential to accomplish a compelling overriding governmental interest” and that the action is “closely tailored and not otherwise served by a less restrictive means.
Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, a former elementary school teacher, said educators strive to build trust with their students.
“As trusted adults, students sometimes share personal information with their teachers,” she said.
“Part of our job is to keep students safe,” she said. And Pawlik pointed out that some of the more onerous provisions of the measure have been removed, such as requiring teachers to “take out” students who come up to them to say they question their gender identification.
And she pointed out that state law already requires teachers to report things like suspected cases of child abuse.
‘But I’m still concerned that the bill will undermine the trust teachers build with their students,’ she said, calling it ‘very concerning’ that parents believe someone has ‘spoofed’ their rights to decide the beliefs of their children.
Representative Judy Schweibert, D-Phoenix, a high school teacher, said the measure was going in the wrong direction.
“As leaders of our legislature, I think we should rather work to ensure that teachers and parents work together for the benefit of their students, as I think is the general rule,” she said. declared.
In contrast, Schweibert said HB 2161 “sends a divisive message”.
But Representative Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, reminded his colleagues that the purpose of the measure is the right of parents, “the right of parents to know what is happening with their children at school.”
“Not teachers’ rights,” he said.
“Parents have a right to know every thing that’s said, taught, watched, what’s up with their kids, because they’re their kids,” Blackman said. “As a parent, I want to make sure I know everything that’s going on at this school and everything that’s being reported, and everything that teacher is saying to my child.”
Kaiser, in proposing the legislation, said much of the impetus came from reports of what students were being asked in the surveys.
As approved, HB 2161 states that whenever there is an investigation, the school must provide a copy to a student’s parent, along with a written consent form that will need to be signed before questions can be asked. be returned to their child.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which supports the measure, said in a prepared statement after the vote that it makes sense.
“If schools want to know if there are guns in the house, how much money the parents make, or if they get along, they can ask the parents themselves,” she said. declared. “Investigations would no longer be used as an endgame around parental rights in public schools.”
House Bill 2439, which had also been approved by the Senate before Monday’s House vote, deals with a different aspect of parental involvement in education.
It states that from 2023, each school board must adopt procedures for parents to access the collection of books and materials available from the school library. Also, starting in January, any time a school purchases new books, they must provide a list within 60 days.
But Rep. Beverly Pingerelli’s proposal, R-Peoria, also says parents have the right to receive a list of all the books and materials their children check out from the school library.
“This is an important parental rights bill,” she said during Monday’s vote. “This is a transparency bill that our neighborhood schools need.”
Pingerelli, who sits on the Peoria Unified School District board of trustees, said there was a time when it was considered “burdensome” for schools to post grades for every quiz and assignment.
“Now it’s just the norm and no one can imagine going back,” she said. “In a few years, that too will be the standard expectation.”
The legislation exempts schools without a full-time media specialist from having to post what is available to pupils and provide parents with a list of what their children are borrowing. This same exception applies to schools that have agreements with public libraries.