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An Arizona lawmaker wants to send teachers a message: If they bring politics into the classroom, they’re risking their jobs. | Sun-Times file photo

Arizona teachers who talk politics in class could be fired if bill passes

SHARE Arizona teachers who talk politics in class could be fired if bill passes
SHARE Arizona teachers who talk politics in class could be fired if bill passes

An Arizona lawmaker wants to send teachers a message: If they bring politics into the classroom, they’re risking their jobs.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R,has introduced the first education bill of the 2019 legislative session. House Bill 2002 would direct the State Board of Education to devise a code of ethics for educators that would include provisions forbidding the spread of political and religious messages in public district and charter schools. State lawmakers won’t convene in the Legislature until the beginning of next year.

It’s unclear how far Finchem’s proposal will go or whether he’ll be able to rally enough support among his colleagues for it to make its way to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.

The ethics code would explicitly ban teachers from endorsing political candidates, legislation or judicial action in the classroom.

It could alsoincrease law enforcement and military recruiter access to students, and it would restrict teachers from teaching “controversial issues” or blaming one racial group of students for the “suffering or inequities” of another racial group.

Leading educators say the billis a distraction from the conversation overschool funding, comingafterthis year’s historic teacher walkout and the #RedForEdmovement.

Finchem, however, said the bill is “bigger” than #RedForEd.He said the idea for the code came from a “stunning” number of calls from parents upset over political viewpoints taught in the classroom.

In one case, he said, a parent told him a math teacher frequently bashedPresident Donald Trump. In another, he said, a 6-year-oldchild came home crying because they were told they had to wear a red shirt to support their teacher.

“I’m sure that the vast majority of teachers don’t participate in promoting political ideology,”he said. “It only takes one or two people to give an entire profession a bad name.”

Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, the state teachers’union, called the bill a “stunt.”

“It’s disappointing that a legislator would choose to do this at the beginning of the session,” she said.

What’s in the legislation?

HB 2002would require a new code of ethics that includes several specific provisions forbidding teachers from:

  • Endorsing, supporting or opposing any candidate or elected or appointed official.
  • Introducing “controversial issues” in class not related to the course being taught.The bill defines “controversial issues” as political platform issues, which could include topics like immigration, abortion, guns and even taxes.
  • Endorsing, supporting or engaging in activity hampering or impeding a military recruiter’s access to a school.
  • Endorsing, supporting or engaging in activity hampering or impeding law enforcement activity.
  • Advocating for one side of a controversial issue. The code would require teachers to provide students with material educating them on “both sides” of the issue, teaching in a nonpartisan way.
  • Segregating students “according to race” or blaming one race of students “as being responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.”

Under the proposal, the State Board would develop penalties for violating the code. Punishment would include termination, according to the bill. It would also require a three-hour annual ethics training for all certified teachers.

The billstates that the ethics code would apply to all “certificated” teachers in the state. Not all public school teachers in Arizona are certified: State law doesn’t require charter school teachers to becertified.

Aren’t politics in class already forbidden?

A ban on politics in the classroom is hardly unprecedented.

State law already prohibits anyone from a school or district to use public resources in a bid to influence the outcome of an election. Earlier this year, some Arizona districts, with that law in mind, warned teachers about wearing #RedForEd shirts in the classroom. Other districts have continued to allow them, saying the movement doesn’t advocate for a particular candidate or ballot measure.

A code of ethics for educators isn’t entirely unusual, either.Other states, like Texas, already have such codes for teachers in place. Texas and Hawaii’s codes donot include any explicit politics bans, but instead address issues such as student-teacher romantic relationships.

Finchem added that other professions, such as the medical profession, routinely have codes of ethics guiding practitioners.

Proposed rules on inequity, race

Finchem’s bill also includes several provisions that appear unrelated to politics, including a rule that prohibits segregating students according to race and singling out “one racial group of students as being responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.”

This part of the bill seems to be a callback to the state’s so-called ethnic studies ban, a controversial law banning classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government; promote resentment toward a race or class of people; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

A federal judge ruled that law, originally passed to end Mexican-American studies classes in Tucson schools,unconstitutional last year.

Read more from USA Today and AZ Central.

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