Parents can now call a hotline to report inappropriate lessons at their schools, under a new initiative launched by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) on Tuesday.
Superintendent Tom Horne discussed the hotline during a Wednesday interview on “The Mike Broomhead Show.” The superintendent said that teachers suspected of abusing their position may face disciplinary conduct and proposed that violations impact a school’s letter grade per the state’s A-F Accountability System.
“Teachers should be teaching the academic standards to their students and not abusing a captive audience by pushing their own ideology,” said Horne. “If they know that their kids have been taught those things, we want them to let us know so we can investigate it and try to do something about it.”
In a press release, ADE clarified that inappropriate public school lessons included those that focus on race or ethnicity, rather than individuals and merit; promoting gender ideology; social-emotional learning (SEL); or inappropriate sexual content. The department linked to our report documenting the over 200 educators who signed onto a statement proclaiming that they would teach outlawed materials like Critical Race Theory (CRT) – even if banned.
Anti-school choice activists and critics of Horne encouraged parents to flood the hotline, dubbed the “Empower Hotline.” Save Our Schools Arizona issued a call to action to drown out real reports from parents seeking help.
“[Please] report how amazing it is that teachers are doing so much for our kids despite the lack of resources provided to them,” stated SOSAZ.
The Empower Hotline rollout included a link to a page on the ADE site explaining Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
ADE claimed that CRT is being taught in many public schools, and rejected the claim that it’s a college-level curriculum. ADE published a list of key words and phrases associated with CRT: oppressors or oppressed, whiteness, white privilege, white supremacy, white complicity, white equilibrium, and white fragility.
“The claim that CRT or its principles and elements is not part of any school curriculum in Arizona is false. It is being taught to children,” stated the ADE.
ADE also characterized SEL as a gateway for CRT. The department also claimed that SEL took away precious instructional time by focusing on emotions and feelings.
“Student test scores have been declining since before the pandemic, and resources – especially the non-renewable resource of time – need to be spent to fully educate students in core subjects,” stated ADE. “Teachers are professionals. They know their students and are already trained to be alert for signs of emotional and behavioral problems. This doesn’t require a full-blown curriculum that detracts from teaching academics.”
Horne warned in a statement that CRT can be taught under different titles, such as “power diversity” or “deep equity.”
Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Marisol Garcia called the hotline a “recipe for disaster.”
“Inviting the harassment of educators, without due process at their local level, with the ability of these ‘accusations’ to be FOIA’d?” asked Garcia.
Those seeking to file a report may call the hotline at (602) 771-3500 from 8:30 am to 4:40 pm, or submit an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate passed a bill requiring voting locations to tabulate early ballots on site.
The bill, SB1105, passed 16-14 along party lines. The bill initially failed in the Senate, but received a second chance on reconsideration. However, the legislation wouldn’t apply to counties that tabulate Election Day ballots at a central location, and those that don’t otherwise tabulate Election Day ballots on-site at a polling location or voting center.
SB1105 from State Sen. Frank Carroll (R-LD28) modifies law to require rather than merely allow county officers in charge of elections to tabulate a voter’s early ballot on site on election day.
Officials who voiced opposition for the bill included Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cazares-Kelly, Mohave County Supervisor Jean Bishop, Mohave County Assessor Jeanne Kentch, and County Supervisors Association of Arizona Legislative Director Robin Hillyard.
During the Senate Elections Committee hearing on the bill in January, Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli (R-LD30) called the legislation a “great, great bill” that “helps with accuracy.” Senate Assistant Minority Leader Juan Mendez (D-LD08) questioned what was more important: accuracy or speed. Borrelli responded that voting was a privilege worth waiting in line for, comparing voting lines to those lines people endure for things like movies and Disneyland.
“You can wait to stand in line, but you can’t wait for the election results to come out when they’re just going to come out?” asked Mendez.
“I’ve always advocated for accuracy, not speed,” said Borrelli.
Jen Marson, Arizona Association of Counties, said that her organization opposes the bill, calling it “unimplementable.” Marson relayed that only half of the counties in the state tabulate ballots on site. She questioned whether the bill would require all counties to tabulate on site.
The committee hearing preceded the amended version of the bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday, which included the exemption for counties that tabulate Election Day ballots at a central location.
Marson further warned that two separate polling places would have to be run within each location: one side for early ballot turn-ins, and one for on-site tabulation. She projected that not all locations would have enough space to run this size of operations. With that, Marson noted that counties would be required to have two separate boards, staff, and equipment to oversee these separate polling place operations.
In addition, Marson noted that it was difficult to find voting locations that are big enough and are ADA compliant. State Sen. John Kavanagh (R-LD03) pointed out that schools and churches are big enough and are ADA compliant, but Marson disclosed that counties are often told “no” by schools.
Marson questioned whether everyone would be required to stand in line rather than drop off an early ballot, and noted that there would need to be different tabulators for early ballots versus in-person, day-of ballots.
Democrats in the committee called the bill “problematic” and a “logistical mess.”
State Sen. Anna Hernandez (D-LD24) claimed that the bill would disenfranchise voters by requiring them to take the time to have their early ballot tabulated on site. Mendez concurred with Hernandez’s remarks, adding that it would make it harder for certain, undisclosed populations to vote.
State Sen. Ken Bennett (R-LD01) admitted that the bill was flawed but ultimately had good intentions. He voted for it in the hopes that the language would be cleaned up to address Marson’s warnings.
“If people are going to bring their early ballots to the polls, then show ID and let’s get those counted. But, half of the counties literally do not do tabulation at these voting centers. This bill is attempting to do something by striking the very language that gives the counties the flexibility, who don’t do on-site tabulation, to send it in and count it,” said Bennett.
These issues were addressed in an amendment on the bill, which provided the exemption for counties that tabulate Election Day ballots at a central location, and those counties that don’t otherwise tabulate Election Day ballots on site at a polling location or voting center.
A committee formed by University of Arizona (UArizona) faculty disbanded this month after they felt university officials were unsupportive of their efforts.
In a letter explaining their disbandment, the General Faculty Committee on University Safety For All informed Faculty Chair Leila Hudson and Faculty Vice Chair Mona Hymel that they feared negative repercussions if they continued their investigative efforts. Hudson had created the committee.
The committee issued a 30-page interim report in January claiming that UArizona suffers from “a glaring institutional failure” that compromises campus safety, and further accused the university of disregarding employee and student safety concerns. The committee’s primary focus on the report was the slaying of professor Thomas Meixner last October.
The accused killer, 46-year-old Murad Dervish, was denied a teaching assistant position for this spring semester by Meixner. Dervish initially sought out three other professors though he wasn’t able to locate them. The report documented Dervish’s lengthy criminal history prior to UArizona, as well as the timeline of his aggressive and predatory behavior leading to his expulsion and ban from campus.
“University officials knew about the prevalence of such violence risks but did not take necessary action to protect the victims,” stated the committee report.
The report also documented three other, unrelated cases to prove UArizona suffered from institutional failures compromising campus safety. These cases documented the alleged harassment and sexual misconduct of two male law students against two female law students; the doxxing and harassment of a female student reporter; and the police call on a student over fallout with a faculty member.
The committee further accused UArizona of suffering from a “chronic trust problem,” calling into question the competency and integrity of university administrators, the university’s capacity and willingness to address safety, and the imposition by administrators of a climate of retaliation and consequences.
The spokesman for UArizona issued a response to media outlets alleging that the committee’s work was based on “misleading characterizations and the selective use of facts and quotations.”
In order to cultivate its data, the committee engaged in one-hour listening sessions with four minority groups, and three faculty groups.
The Faculty Senate endorsed the report during a meeting last month.
The committee formed several weeks after the fatal shooting of Meixner last October.
UArizona hired consulting firm PAX Group to review and issue a report on their campus safety protocols. That report has not yet been publicized. The faculty committee was slated to issue a final report later this semester.
Members of the faculty committee were Chairwoman Jenny Lee, College of Education; Hoshin Gupta, College of Science; Jennifer Hatcher, College of Public Health; Luis Irizarry, graduate student liaison; Lisa Kiser, College of Nursing; Barak Orbach, College of Law; Christina Rocha, staff liaison; Shyam Sunder, Eller School of Management; and Lauryn White, student liaison.
The city of Tucson has finalized its plan to solve its “climate emergency” declared in 2020, estimated at the low end to cost hundreds of millions. The plan could cost the city around $326 million, but noted that these costs were estimates. The city projected in its cost-benefit analysis (CBA) that the net present value created by its planning would be around $7.9 billion.
Included in the value added were nonmonetary items translated to have monetary value, such as quality of life. The city admitted that these estimated costs weren’t probable, but a rough estimate.
“When planning for climate mitigation and adaptation policies and projects, it is essential to consider, not only the upfront cost of a project or policy, but what benefits will society as a whole see from implementing these projects or policies,” stated the city.
CBAs are controversial for their unreliability. Oxford University declared in a 2020 report and Cambridge University declared in a 2021 report that CBAs tend to be inaccurate and biased.
The city council approved the 155-page plan to tackle climate change — or, the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), titled “Tucson Resilient Together” — during Tuesday’s meeting. In a letter accompanying the CAAP, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero declared that the plan takes immediate, equity-centered action. The CAAP formed solutions based on four types of equity: procedural, meaning certain voices get elevated above others; distributional, meaning certain individuals or groups get more distribution of benefits or burdens than others; structural, meaning disparate treatment based on existence within perceived power structures or systems of privilege; and transgenerational, meaning greater burdens for current generations to ease burdens of future generations.
“Climate change is an existential threat, and our public health, economy, and way of life are on the line,” said Romero.
The plan outlines goals of carbon neutrality across city operations by 2030 and community-wide by 2045.
AZ Free News has outlined each action item within this plan, along with its potential cost range. The plan noted that the most expensive projects ranged over $1 million in cost, but didn’t disclose how high those costs could reach.
Establish a Climate Action Team (CAT) to implement CAAP — up to $100,000
Partnering with nongovernmental entities to make decisions about city purchases, programming, training, investments, etc. — up to $100,000
Offer climate change educational resources to the community — up to $100,000
Monitor and inventory GHG emissions — up to $100,000
Decarbonize city-owned and operated buildings and facilities — anywhere over $1 million
Electrify and decarbonize all existing and new residential and commercial buildings — anywhere from $100,000 to anywhere over $1 million
Move to renewables-based electricity in the city and community — $500,000 to $1 million
Install and promote distributed energy resources (DERs) like rooftop solar panels — $500,000 to anywhere over $1 million
Pursue renewable energy resources like geothermal heating and cooling, methane generated from decomposing waste, etc. — anywhere over $1 million
Develop more sidewalks, bike lanes and paths, seating, and shading infrastructure — anywhere over $1 million
Develop more public transit options and infrastructure — anywhere over $1 million
Create a “15-minute city,” essentially restructuring the community to enable only walking, biking, and public transit, while ridding the city of cars — $500,000 to $1 million
Establish more electric vehicle charging infrastructure and building codes — anywhere over $1 million
Make public agency fleets into zero-emission vehicles — anywhere over $1 million
Establish financial incentives and infrastructures for city employees to not use cars — up to $100,000
Hold citizens to a “Zero Waste Plan” to empty landfills — $500,000 to $1 million
Create a community-wide organic waste collection and treatment program — $500,000 to $1 million
Establish a sustainable procurement policy for city operations — up to $100,000
Divert waste from landfills — $100,000 to $500,000
Expand green infrastructure programs, regulations, and requirements – up to $100,000
Establish “resilience hubs” for climate-related emergencies — anywhere from no cost to over $1 million
Establish urban heat mitigation infrastructure — anywhere over $1 million
Establish more “green” spaces, like planting more trees — $100,000 to $1 million
Restructure community relations to arrange a new emergency response and resource-sharing system — up to $100,000
The CAAP was developed in five different study sessions over the past year, with input from over 5,000 community members. A draft version of the CAAP came out in January.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has sued the Washington Elementary School District (WESD), alleging unconstitutional discrimination against Christians.
ADF filed the lawsuit on Thursday against WESD, claiming that the district’s recent decision to end a contract with Arizona Christian University (ACU) due to its religious beliefs on biblical marriage and sexuality constituted unlawful discrimination.
In a press release, ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, claimed that WESD violated both the U.S. Constitution and state law by ending its contract with ACU based on the university’s religious beliefs.
“Washington Elementary School District officials are causing irreparable harm to ACU every day they force it to choose between its religious beliefs and partnering with the area’s public schools,” said Cortman.
AZ Free News first broke the story about WESD’s alleged discrimination last week, documenting how WESD Governing Board Member Tamillia Valenzuela, a self-identified neurodivergent queer furry, led a crusade to purge Christians from WESD.
Valenzuela said during the board’s Feb. 23 meeting that ACU’s mission to prioritize the teachings of Jesus Christ weren’t aligned with WESD priorities. WESD had contracted with ACU to have university students complete their student teaching and practical coursework at one of WESD’s campuses. All five of the governing board members voted to terminate WESD’s contract with ACU. 16 ACU students were involved with WESD at the time.
In January, Valenzuela also condemned the district for allowing Grand Canyon University (GCU) students to serve as interns with WESD. GCU is a private Christian university. Unlike with ACU, WESD opted to maintain its contract with GCU.
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) condemned WESD’s decision to terminate its contract with ACU.
“Terminating a contract based on religious practices is unacceptable. The teachers from ACU sign a contract that adheres to the district’s guidelines, and it’s ill-advised to cut off an educator pipeline as our schools struggle with staffing,” stated ADE.
Social justice activists rallied around Valenzuela, issuing a call to action for community members to wear cat ears to Thursday’s board meeting.
Earlier this week, Democratic legislators also issued their support for Valenzuela. The Democrats claimed that criticisms of WESD and Valenzuela were coordinated by Republicans and intended to “demonize and demoralize school leaders, LGBTQ+ students, and our public school system.” The Democrats also claimed that criticisms of the district and Valenzuela would result in violence against officials and even students.
The Democrats’ statement didn’t address the concerns that WESD’s actions resulted in potentially unlawful religious discrimination against Christians.
Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), an anti-school choice teachers’ union activist group, helped get Valenzuela elected to WESD’s board last year.
During Thursday’s board meeting, Valenzuela claimed that lawmakers were bullying LGBTQ+ students by not accepting their lifestyles. Valenzuela claimed that realizing alternative sexualities constituted the fullest realization of humanity.
“There is a difference between acceptance and tolerance, and members of our society have been merely accepted, merely tolerated for their existence. We have watched as our children have been bullied for having autonomy,” said Valenzuela. “Know what Christ’s teachings were: it was love, it was acceptance. It was not cursing people out on Facebook and Twitter, it was not spreading misinformation.”
Valenzuela’s remarks elicited a mixed chorus of clapping and boos.
Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs is giving her veto stamp a workout in the first two-plus months of the Arizona Legislative session, and Republicans are not pleased with her disdain for their policy proposals.
On Thursday, Governor Hobbs vetoed SB 1305, which was sponsored by Senator J.D. Mesnard. According to the purpose of the legislation provided by the State Senate, SB 1305 “prohibits a public school, school district or state agency that is involved with students or teachers of preschool or kindergarten programs of any of grades 1 through 12 (state agency), or an employee of a public school, school district or state agency, from providing instruction to students or employees that promotes or advocates for specified concepts relating to race and ethnicity.”
Senator Mesnard was not happy in the least about Hobbs’ veto of his legislation, issuing the following statement once her decision was official: “I’m deeply disheartened by Governor Hobbs’ choice to condone these discriminatory teachings our kids are being exposed to, by vetoing my bill. As lawmakers, we are called to protect the vulnerable, including impressionable and innocent kids. Her action today is a slap in the face to parents who came forward with serious concerns about the racism being taught in their children’s classrooms.”
The governor released a short explanation of her veto of SB 1305, writing, “It’s time to stop pushing students and teachers into culture wars rooted in fear mongering and evidence-free accusation. Bills like SB1305 serve only to divide and antagonize. I urge the Legislature to work with me on the real issues affecting Arizona schools: underfunded classrooms, a growing educator retention crisis, and school buildings in need of repair and replacement.”
The ACLU of Arizona agreed with Hobbs’ veto, tweeting, “Young people have a right to learn an inclusive and complete history in schools, free from partisan restrictions. We applaud @GovernorHobbs for vetoing #SB1305, the legislature’s latest attempt to censor Arizona classrooms and distract from real issues.”
Mesnard addressed Hobbs’ condemnation of Republican tactics and policies: “Contrary to Governor Hobbs’ accusation in her veto letter that we are not working on ‘real issues,’ Senate Republicans have so far passed a budget that would have provided assurance that schools, public safety, health services, child welfare services, transportation, and other government functions would not shutdown come July 1. We’ve passed a rental tax cut that would have provided much needed relief to our citizens struggling with housing affordability and crippling inflation. In fact, within the first two months of session, the Senate has passed more than 200 bills addressing a variety of issues important to the people of Arizona. We certainly have proven we know how to multitask, but unfortunately, we’re working with a Governor who is playing political games with lives and livelihoods.”
Hobbs’ veto of this bill risks the increased ire of a growing number of parents who are extremely concerned about what their children are being taught in district and charter schools. Over the past few years especially, educational curriculum and reading material has been under a massive amount of scrutiny and research, leading to heightened election contests and fiery confrontations at school board meetings around the country.
The veto of SB 1305 was Hobbs’ 16th of the legislative session. Many additional vetoes are expected as Republicans continue to pass bills out of the Arizona Legislature and transmit to the Ninth Floor of the Executive Tower.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.