Pinal County Sheriffs Gifted Seized Equipment to High School Agriculture Students

Pinal County Sheriffs Gifted Seized Equipment to High School Agriculture Students

By Corinne Murdock |

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) announced Tuesday that they gave equipment seized in an illegal marijuana growing operation to a local high school for their agriculture classes. The seizure occurred in 2017, approximately three years before marijuana legalization in the state. 

“Back in 2017, PCSO seized these lights and other hydroponic equipment as evidence in an illegal marijuana grow operation bust outside of Maricopa,” wrote PCSO. “We recently donated it all to a nearby high school so it can have a second (legal) life teaching agriculture students.”

In November 2020, Arizona legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over through the voter initiative Proposition 207, the “Smart and Safe Arizona Act.” Voters approved the measure by 60 percent of the vote. Additionally, Proposition 207 allowed individuals to petition courts to seal their marijuana-related criminal records dated before November 30, 2020. Applicable records included possession, consumption, or transportation of 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana or 12.5 grams of marijuana concentrate; possession, transportation, cultivation, or processing up to six marijuana plants at a primary residence for personal use; and possession, use, or transportation of paraphernalia related to cultivating, manufacturing, processing, or consuming marijuana. 

Prior to the passage of Proposition 207, several similar proposals failed when brought to the ballot: Proposition 203 in 2002 and Proposition 205 in 2016. Advancements in marijuana legalization occurred in 1996 with the legalization of medically-prescribed marijuana in Proposition 200, and an expansion of that through the passage of Proposition 203 in 2010.

As AZ Free News reported, health officials mentioned during Monday’s House Health Committee hearing how recreational marijuana has shadowed fentanyl overdoses and deaths — especially in rising pediatric cases.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

State Legislator Opposed to Parental Rights Bill: Parents to Blame, Not Schools

State Legislator Opposed to Parental Rights Bill: Parents to Blame, Not Schools

By Corinne Murdock |

In response to the House Education Committee hearing on a bill to enhance parental rights, State Representative Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) implied that the fault lied with parents, not with the schools. He said that the legislature should maintain a limited government approach and not create more burdens for schools.

“We [should] encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s education,” said Hernandez. “The vast majority of parents aren’t as engaged as they should be.”

The bill in question, HB2161, was introduced by State Representative Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix). It would prohibit any employee of the state or its political subdivisions, entities, or institutions from: withholding information from parents related to their child’s physical, emotional, or mental health; interfering in parents’ control over their child’s upbringing, education, health care, and mental health; denying or inhibiting parents’ rights to access any of their child’s written or electronic medical records, attendance scores, test scores, grades, extracurricular activities, club participation, disciplinary or psychological records, admission applications, health and immunization information, teacher and counselor evaluations and behavioral pattern reports, email accounts, and online or virtual accounts and data. Government entities or officials may only invoke control over a child’s upbringing, education, health care, and mental health if there’s a compelling government interest demonstrated. 

The bill also included provisions specific to schools, such as prohibiting school districts or their employees from withholding information from parents related to purported gender identity or requested gender transitions. It also required schools to obtain written informed consent from parents prior to administering any survey soliciting personal information, as well as share a copy of the survey in question seven days prior to administering it. 

Violations of the bill could result in disciplinary action to the offending employee, a $500 fine for school districts, and lawsuits against the governmental entity or official from the parents.

The bill passed the House Education Committee by a bare majority, 6-5. 

State Representatives Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake), Lupe Diaz (R-Hereford), John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott), Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), and Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria) voted for the bill. Those who voted against the bill were State Representatives Daniel Hernandez Jr. (D-Tucson), Joel John (R-Arlington), Judy Schweibert (D-Phoenix), Myron Tsosie (D-Chinle), and Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler).

During conversations of the bill, several school-related issues reported by AZ Free News were brought up: the encouragement of students to identify their given names as deadnames and instead identify by their preferred names on identification, the formation of K-12 LGBTQ clubs through an organization called GLSEN whose content focuses on the sexualization of children, the pornographic and explicit book assigned even after promised revocation at Horizon High School, and surveys that encourage students to disclose private information about their home life.

Kaiser said he would “absolutely” consider increasing the penalty to schools from $500, which Fillmore said might be too low because that amount was paltry for school districts. 

Schwiebert expressed concern that forced exposure of private, more emotional conversations between a teacher and student would result in hardships for the student. Kaiser asserted that it wasn’t the teacher’s role to serve as a support system. He said he hoped he’d get a call from a teacher if his child was struggling with something, and would be horrified if they didn’t because it’s not their job.

“Their job is to teach my son reading, writing and math, their job is not to console my son. Their job is to let me know,” said Kaiser.

John then asked if there was any time where a student could tell a teacher something in confidence that wouldn’t be shared with parents, exempting information involving something illegal. Kaiser said no.

In response, Udall shared that she had several teenage students in the past approach her about their underage pregnancies. Kaiser said that he didn’t have an answer for that specific situation; Udall advised that Kaiser should consider situations which would allow teachers to leave it to the children to tell their parents.

Fillmore chimed in to ask Udall if there wasn’t a duty to report teenage pregnancies; Udall didn’t have an exact answer, saying that she believed that only incidents related to abuse were those teachers were required to report.

Community members who spoke in opposition of the bill said that it violated the rights of youth, mainly an alleged right to privacy. One example came from ACLU of Arizona spokesman Jeff Esposito who said that the bill was unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst. Nguyen retorted that Esposito and his ilk were driving a wedge between parents and their children by allowing educators to decide what information parents may know.

“You’re, in a way, making a decision for me [as a parent],” said Nguyen. 

Fillmore then asked Esposito if his only contention with the bill was the outing of a child’s sexuality. Esposito said no, but then repeated that sexuality and its impact on mental health were of paramount concern.

“What I’m saying is a student may make a choice to reveal private information to a trusted adult and then that trusted adult may make that choice to reveal that information to parents,” said Esposito. “But to jump that line and make that information known to parents before the student is ready […] sometimes those students need a trusted adult to go to and their rights to privacy should be respected.”

Fillmore challenged the notion that children had authority to do what they’d like that suits them best without parental knowledge or oversight. 

In closing remarks, Blackman said that schools have no right to subvert parents’ wills or act as a parent would in certain situations. He criticized the implication that preventing government employees from serving as middlemen between parents and children would result in children facing hardships such as homelessness and drug addiction.

“When she’s going to bed at night, she’s going to my house. Not at the counselors’ house and not at the teachers house,” asserted Blackman. “Schools are trying to get in the middle where the parents should be to comfort that child, to teach that child. And all I hear is, ‘the parent has no rights.’ If the parent has no rights for those medical records, is the school going to pay that medical bill? You’re not going to do that. As a parent I have a right to know every single thing that’s going on with my child.”

Diaz added that parents are divinely ordained by God to care for their children — not schools. Diaz said he discerned from parent testimonies that a variety of God-given rights were violated by schools, including the First and Fourth Amendments.

“God created the parents to be the responsible entity for the children,” said Diaz. “Our man’s laws should be a reflection of divine law. Every parent is going to stand before God and answer for their children. And I respect you parents who have come  here and have stood for your own parental rights and for your children.”

Watch the hearing here:

https://www.facebook.com/azfreenews/videos/929578277919829

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Six Of Arizona’s 207 School Districts At Highest Financial Risk

Six Of Arizona’s 207 School Districts At Highest Financial Risk

By Terri Jo Neff |

Earlier this month Arizona Auditor General Lindsey Perry published a financial risk analysis of the state’s 207 public school districts, which showed dozens of districts rank at high-risk in one or more of 10 areas of review.

But only six districts finished the review with a designation of “highest risk,” according to Perry’s office. Those districts are Double Adobe Elementary, Elfrida Elementary School District, Flagstaff Unified, Isaac Elementary, Safford Unified, and Wenden Elementary.

Elfrida Elementary is a one-school district in Cochise County which ranked high-risk in 8 of the 10 categories. The district, which had 101 students in Fiscal Year 2020 but only 84 in FY2021, was also on the highest-risk list last year, according to the inspector general.

In response, district officials noted several aspects of the financial risk areas have improved in recent months, albeit not enough to get removed from high-risk status.

“There was a limited possibility that the school was going to be able to get out of all the high risk areas during the year,” the district’s response stated. “However, the COVID relief monies have made quite an impact in the school both budgetary wise and infrastructure wise.”

District officials have used their COVID relief monies in a variety of ways, including spending more than $290,000 for salaries, technology purchases to improve 1:1 computer ratios, and repairs to HVAC systems. Monies were also spent for public health items such as plexiglass, masks, and cleaning supplies. Additional expenditures included an outside cleaning company and a staff aide to help with health scanning of students riding the bus.

Another improvement, according to public records, was addressing the district’s loss of its credit line. As a result, Elfrida Elementary District is now on registered warrant status. In February 2021, the amount was $164,031, but by early November 2021 there were no registered warrants.

“We are striving to not have a registered warrant status at the end of FY2022 by ensuring that the district calls down grant monies monthly and that we do not spend more money than our revenues allow,” the district told the auditor general.

District officials also entered into a food service agreement with the local high school, and a superintendent sharing agreement with another elementary school district.  A full-time teacher position with benefits was not filled; instead, a long-term substitute without benefits has been utilized at a savings of nearly $20,000.  

The audit report further noted Elfrida Elementary District’s primary property tax rate has been frozen since FY 2014, although district officials had not adjusted its budget to stay within the revenue it would generate based on its frozen tax rate. And the report pointed out that COVID-19 funding is short termed.

“As these are one-time monies, to avoid future financial risk and to ensure it will be able to spend within its available cash resources and budget capacity when these relief monies are no longer available to spend after September 30, 2024, the District should plan how it will adjust its spending in areas where its remaining monies are used,” the report noted.

While Elfrida Elementary ranked at high-risk in 8 categories, Antelope Union High School District in Yuma County hit that designation in only 4 of the 10 categories. Which is one reason the district fell off the highest-risk list from last year, according to the auditor general.  

But Perry’s office warns Antelope Union’s data indicates “it could move back in to the highest-risk group in the future” if it does not continue to make progress.

Among the improvements made by Antelope Union officials was a tax levy and a General Fund spending reduction. The district was also aided by COVID-19 federal relief monies, more than $160,000 of which went toward operational experiences through June 30, 2021.

District officials have told auditors they plan to use its remaining relief money for non-operational purposes. In the meantime, the auditor general is recommending Antelope Union begin formulating a spending plan sooner than later, as COVID-19 funds dry up in 2024.  

However, another problem is facing Antelope Union High School District’s finances.

Last June, Perry’s office notified the State Board of Education about accounting and bookkeeping problems with Antelope Union. As a  result, the Board deemed Antelope Union in noncompliance with the Uniform System of Financial Records for Arizona School Districts (USFR) due to deficiencies dating back to June 2018.  

This means the district is not receiving certain state monies. Which once lost, stay lost.

“The District will remain in noncompliance until cleared by the State Board of Education,” Cristan Cable, Director of the Auditor General’s accountability services division, told AZ Free News.

Cable explained that Antelope Union cannot be cleared by the Board until auditors determine the cited deficiencies have been resolved. Those deficiencies were first brought to the attention of the Antelope Union governing board back in 2019. At the time, a corrective action place was provided to district officials but there is much work remaining.   

“The State Board of Education will reconsider the District’s noncompliance when we are able to report to the Board that the District has addressed its deficiencies either based on our subsequent review at the request of the State Board of Education or based on our review of the District’s fiscal year 2022 or a later financial and compliance audit performed by the District’s independent auditors,” Cable said.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FINANICAL RISK OF ARIZONA’S 207 DISTRICTS https://frisk.azauditor.gov/

Scottsdale Schools Plan For Unexpected Influx Of Afghan Refugee Students

Scottsdale Schools Plan For Unexpected Influx Of Afghan Refugee Students

By Terri Jo Neff |

Nearly 300 Afghan refugees are being relocated to a former hotel in Scottsdale after being housed at various military installations, resulting in the mobilization of a Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) team “to plan for providing educational services and support” to any school-aged refugees, according to Superintendent Scott Menzel.

SUSD “has an obligation to provide educational services to homeless students who reside within the district,” Menzel noted in a district newsletter. That obligation is based on compliance with the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

“While we did not anticipate this influx of new students, we are committed to marshalling the resources and supports necessary to ensure that these children are welcomed into our schools as they transition to their news lives in this country,” he wrote.  

The newsletter comments also referenced questions raised by some in the community about whether the district should be serving the refuge children. Instead of addressing public health, staffing, and security concerns, Menzel simply cited federal law as leaving the district no option.

Although Menzel’s comments were included in the recent newsletter, there has been nothing posted to SUSD’s Facebook page. In addition, district officials have not disclosed what conversations they have had with state and federal officials about compensation for the sudden influx of non-English speaking students.

More information is expected to be made public on Jan. 25 when the SUSD governing board meets.

Last August, Gov. Doug Ducey stated that Afghan refugees will be welcomed in Arizona. He noted that the Arizona Department of Economic Security, through its Arizona Office of Refugee Resettlement, would help secure housing, employment, and education for the refugees.

The refugees are being housed at the former Homewood Suites on North Scottsdale Road. The property is currently in bankruptcy but was approved by federal officials in early 2021 as a contracted temporary migrant transition facility.

There was no advance notice to Scottsdale city officials about the migrant arrangement last year. That contract expired at the year of 2021, but now the non-profit International Rescue Committee (IRC) is utilizing the massive hotel property for the next few months as temporary housing while efforts are undertaken to place each refuge or refugee family unit in homes with sponsors in the greater Phoenix area.  

Some refugees began arriving at the Homewood Suites before Jan. 14. According to Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther, “next to no one was aware” that the property was being repurposed.

Walther issued an advisory to Mayor David Ortega and council members before Menzel’s comments, noting there was no heads up to local authorities about the IRC’s plans to house unsupervised Afghan refugees within the city.

The IRC has now told city officials that the site is expected to use only through April. As far as security, IRC plans to hire security guards but made it clear that the refugees are free to come and go as they wish.

Security was not in place prior to the arrival of the first group of refugees, Walther noted. The refugees are expected to be gone from the hotel property by April, according to Walther.

“This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight,” a city spokesperson recently told AZ Free News.

While Menzel was reticent about the situation, one of his school principal’s issued a detailed email to Cherokee Elementary staff.  He reported that more than 80 school-aged refugees are expected to be enrolled across three, possibly four, SUSD schools. 

Those students, according to Principal Walter Chantler, could speak one of four languages. And many of the youth, particularly the girls, have never been in school.

Scottsdale Hotel Sheltering Unsupervised Afghan Refugees, Previously Housed Illegal Immigrants

Scottsdale Hotel Sheltering Unsupervised Afghan Refugees, Previously Housed Illegal Immigrants

By Corinne Murdock |

The Scottsdale hotel that made headlines last year for sheltering hundreds of illegal immigrants has been repurposed this year for sheltering Afghan refugees. In an email obtained by State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) Chief of Police Jeff Walther briefed the mayor and council on a situation that it appears not even local law enforcement was aware of until after the fact.

According to Walther’s relayed intelligence from the organization contracted by the State Department and the Department of Defense (DOD) to run the shelter, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), refugees were relocated from military bases beginning January 12. The refugees won’t be confined to the hotel and may roam the community at their leisure because the law prohibits their detainment. They will reside at the hotel until they are matched with sponsor families throughout the Valley. At most, Walther said there would be 300 refugees housed at the hotel. 

Walther reassured the council and mayor that the refugees were vaccinated, vetted by the State Department, and educated on American culture. The chief of police then admitted that there’s no security on site at the moment, but said IRC promised there would be at some point in the future. 

If anyone attempts to contact the hotel, they will be met by individuals purporting to operate a regular hotel. Walther explained that the IRC hired a hotel management company to disguise the site was a functioning hotel serving “a closed clientele” — i.e., the refugees. At no point will the State Department or DOD manage the hotel or install any personnel there.

Just like last year, this reporter called the hotel. A woman answered, identifying the establishment as Homewood Suites; there was a substantial amount of background chatter. The woman informed this reporter that they were accepting reservations, but that there weren’t any available rooms until June, but didn’t disclose why.

AZ Free News inquired with Scottsdale’s mayor and city council about the hotel, and its reported lack of security for the refugees. A spokesperson for the mayor and council submitted this response, essentially repeating portions of information relayed by Walther and stating that city officials couldn’t do anything about something happening within their jurisdiction because the federal government was involved:

“The city was recently informed that a nonprofit organization working on behalf of the federal government has rented part of a vacant hotel in Scottsdale to house Afghan refugees evacuated by the U.S. in August 2021. This site is being used as a temporary housing facility while each resident/resident family is assigned a sponsor family to live with throughout the greater Phoenix Area. The individuals at this location were previously housed at U.S. military bases. While there, they were vetted by the U.S. State Department and vaccinated against COVID-19. Scottsdale is in contact with the organization operating this site, but has no current authority to prevent the hotel from being rented for this purpose. This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight.”

Chaplik warned his constituents that their city council had, once again, allowed unsupervised foreigners to occupy a building at the heart of their community.

“Residents of Scottsdale, is this what you voted for? City Council refused to put up a fight when ICE took over this hotel and now the Feds are bringing in Afghan refugees with NO public notice whatsoever. And NO security hired yet,” wrote Chaplik. “This is our community and council doesn’t care.”

As AZ Free News reported last June, the hotel was converted into a migrant shelter by ICE almost overnight to offset the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants caused by President Joe Biden. The shelter operated as a temporary migrant transition facility from May until the end of last month. Unlike the operations that concluded recently at the hotel, this shelter won’t be overseen by ICE.

On Friday, our other reporters drove by the hotel. They reported seeing garbage piled around the building, with employees hauling more garbage out of the building. There were no barricades around the hotel.

Walther claimed in closing that there have been few issues in the past with the refugees in the Phoenix area and across the nation. He informed the mayor and council that SPD met with IRC officials on Friday afternoon.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

ASU Offers Murky Reasons For Canceling Fundraiser For Conservative Program

ASU Offers Murky Reasons For Canceling Fundraiser For Conservative Program

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona State University (ASU) decided to cancel a prominent conservative program’s first annual fundraiser scheduled for next month, and there are conflicting explanations behind their decision. The event was arranged to honor prominent community leaders Dan and Carleen Brophy; 100 percent of the event proceeds were to go to the program. 

Three different reasons for the event’s cancellation were given to different parties involved in the event. The first two related to technicalities: the uptick in COVID-19 cases, and one unnamed faculty member’s failure to follow ASU rules. The third had to do with a more contentious topic: the featured speakers. 

ASU’s decision means that the program, Political History and Leadership (PHL), may not obtain funds it anticipated from the event, which was to take place at the Desert Botanical Garden. Each guest would have paid $250 for attendance, and tables of eight would’ve pulled in $2,000.  The PHL Program is part of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies.

AZ Free News learned that ASU informed several of the featured speakers that the event was canceled due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. 

Scientists hypothesize that COVID-19 likely functions as a seasonal disease. Last year, the case counts for February were nominal after the holiday spike.

AZ Free News also learned that ASU President Michael Crow wasn’t aware of the event or its cancellation, and that ASU would reschedule. However, emails obtained by AZ Free News indicated that the ASU administration was responsible for canceling the event.

ASU spokesman Jerry Gonzalez told AZ Free News a slightly different story. Gonzalez said that a faculty member broke the university’s scheduling protocol. When we asked which protocol was broken, ASU said it didn’t have any more information to provide.

“The event at the Desert Botanical Garden was canceled due to a breach of scheduling protocol by a faculty member in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies,” said Gonzalez. “The university welcomes the opportunity for this event to be rescheduled following the required protocols.”

AZ Free News also inquired of the ASU Foundation, which was in charge of receiving the program funds earned from the event and approving any event planning. They didn’t respond to any of our emails. 

A third potential reason surrounding the event cancellation had nothing to do with logistics. Some reported that they were informed that the event was canceled due to controversy over the choice of guest speakers: Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) and former Utah congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz. 

In a press release, Arizona Free Enterprise Club President Scot Mussi derided ASU based on the claim that they canceled the fundraiser over Biggs and Chaffetz.

“It is outrageous that Michael Crow and ASU would cancel an ASU Foundation Fundraiser because they oppose the views and philosophy of the featured speakers attending the event. It is becoming clear that woke cancel culture has taken over every office at the University,” said Mussi. “ASU doesn’t have a problem with liberal activists and public officials appearing at the school for various events. It is well known that Democrat politicians, including US Senator Kyrsten Sinema, have in the past or currently work for the University at taxpayer expense. It only becomes a problem when the speaker is a conservative. If Michael Crow is going to surrender to the ‘cancel culture’ mob, then he is no longer fit to be ASU President and should resign.”

Those registered for the PHL event will receive full refunds.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.