Arizona Lawmakers Look to Stifle Teachers’ Political Speech | Arizona Public Safety Coalition

Arizona Lawmakers Look to Stifle Teachers’ Political Speech

by AZPSC News Feed

Educator Kelley Fisher leads Arizona teachers through downtown Phoenix on their way to the State Capitol during a Red for Ed rally in April 2018.
Photo: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Less than a year after a statewide teacher walkout, Arizona legislators have filed two bills aimed at limiting the workplace speech rights of public educators. House Bills 2002 and 2015, proposed last month by Republican representatives Mark Finchem and Kelly Townsend, respectively, would allow the state to fire teachers who discuss politics, religion, or racial issues in classroom settings. Finchem’s bill appears especially strict. As reported by the Arizona Republic, it seeks to prohibit teachers from “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.’” That provision invokes the state’s attempted ban on ethnic studies curriculum in public schools; in 2017, a federal judge ruled that the ban’s enactment reflected “racial animus” and thus violated the constitutional rights of students.

The ethnic studies ban isn’t the only state controversy to which Finchem’s bill appears to respond. According to the Arizona Mirror, it would also ban teachers from “discussing or giving opinions on any bill, legal case or executive action.” Supporters of the Red for Ed movement, which inspired the state’s teacher walkout last April, fear that both Finchem and Townsend seek to penalize teachers for participating in future protests. Both legislators opposed last year’s walkout: Finchem called the strike “an incredible show of bad faith” at the time, and has told press that he filed his bill in response to parental complaints about overt political speech from educators. Members of Purple for Parents, a right-leaning advocacy group formed to oppose Red for Ed, had indeed repeatedly complained about teacher speech both before and during the walkout. Julie Brown of Educate Gilbert, an offshoot of Purple for Parents, told the Ahwatukee Foothills News in August that her organization didn’t intend to “bash” Red for Ed but added, “The idea is no matter what you believe, it has to stay out of the schools.”

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