Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman is facing a lawsuit for advertising links to chat rooms where minors discuss sex and gender with adults present and without parents necessarily knowing.
The lawsuit, case number CV2022-093889 filed in the Maricopa County Superior Court, requests that ADE remove the chat space from its website. Judge Peter Thompson was assigned the case.
The chat room website advertised by the ADE, Q Chat Space, targets LGBTQ+ youth 13 years and older. It offers a “quick escape” feature that masks a child’s visit to the site by redirecting from the Q Chat Space site to Google’s homepage. The adults facilitating discussions, “Q Chatters,” don’t have to be licensed professionals.
Some of the upcoming chat rooms are: “Sex and Relationships Q&A,” “FOR TRANS/NON-BINARY YOUTH: Activism and Allyship,” and “FOR TRANS/NONBINARY YOUTH: Sex Ed.”
The site has minors offer personal information when signing up, including their sexual orientation, romantic interests, gender identity, email address, birth date, ZIP code, and race.
According to the ADE, Hoffman developed the LGBTQ+ resource page with her Equitable and Inclusive Practices Advisory Council (EIPAC) before launching it last June as part of Pride Month.
The citizen behind the lawsuit, Peggy McClain, claimed that Hoffman violated the Parents’ Bill of Rights provision prohibiting any attempts to encourage or coerce minors to withhold information from their parents. McClain further asserted that the children’s data was vulnerable to hacking and could therefore be sold on the dark web to child predators, noting that some of the adult chat facilitators could be child predators as well.
“By doing the things set forth above, Katherine Hoffman is encouraging the grooming of young children,” stated McClain.
Q Chat Space is a collaborative effort of Planned Parenthood, the LGBTQ+ support network organization PFLAG, and LGBTQ+ community center organization CenterLink.
ADE also directs minors to another chat site similar to the one contested in the lawsuit: Gender Spectrum. That chat site is open to minors aged 10 and older.
In March, the Arizona Department of Education’s (ADE) Social Studies newsletter advertised grant funds for teachers who would implement the 1619 Project. The Pulitzer Center offered a $5,000 grant to 40 educators; applications were due in March. The 1619 Project is an exercise of critical race theory, which holds that race is a socially-constructed idea created by white people to exploit and suppress anyone who isn’t white, and that all social, political, and economic institutions in this country were created by and operate on racism.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series was debunked by historians roundly and subsequently edited significantly without any editor’s notes from its publisher, The New York Times. The initial goal of the project was to “reframe the country’s history” by establishing the year 1619 as the United States’s “true founding,” while focusing “the consequences of slavery and contributions of black Americans” as the lens through which to view past and present American society.
Parent and co-founder of West Valley Parents Uniting, Heather Rooks, resurfaced ADE’s newsletter promoting 1619 Project grant funds.
“Social Studies Newsletter back from January 2021, Arizona Department of Education to the Peoria Unified School District,” wrote Rooks. “Pulitzer Center offering grants to teachers to help implement the 1619 project ? So @azedschools is clearly using incentives to push CRT is AZ schools!”
Social Studies Newsletter back from January 2021, Arizona Department of Education to the Peoria Unified School District….Pulitzer Center offering grants to teachers to help implement the 1619 project ? So @azedschools is clearly using incentives to push CRT is AZ schools! pic.twitter.com/7195dTl7lK
In February, ADE’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion also suggested that the 1619 Project podcast was an appropriate educator resource for Black History Month.
In a statement to AZ Free News, Rooks questioned how ADE could be trusted with educating Arizona’s students if they promoted such unacademic materials. She urged parents to up their vigilance.
The Arizona Department of Education sends out newsletters to school districts across the valley. You would think the Department would have resources to help students with loss of learning. But instead, there’s a newsletter from January 2021 showing a promotion from Pulitzer Center giving out grant money to teachers who implement the 1619 project in their classrooms. I am a parent who wants the best education not only for my children, but for all children in Peoria Unified School District. Finding this newsletter through public records in emails of the curriculum team with the Peoria Unified School District was incredibly sad and shocking to say the least. If we can’t trust The Arizona Department of Education, how do we trust the Districts? Parents need to be aware of these newsletters coming to school districts from the Arizona Department of Education. Offering incentives to push Critical Race Theory into schools is completely wrong. West Valley Parents Uniting stands for transparency for parents and academics for students. Apparently the Arizona Department of Education doesn’t stand for Truth.
Another data breach in two years has Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) holders wondering if their information is secure with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). This past week, it was discovered that the state’s contracted payment platform for ESA funds, ClassWallet, had allowed users to search for other ESA account holders and view their names and email addresses.
In a letter sent to ESA holders, ESA Program Director of Communications and Engagement Sarah Raybon explained that they became aware of the data breach last Friday. Raybon assured ESA holders that ClassWallet would resolve that feature over the weekend.
“Today, our team became aware of an issue in ClassWallet portal’s search feature that allowed account holders to view the names and email addresses of other account holders,” wrote Raybon. “Upon discovery, we immediately contacted the Treasurer’s Office (who holds the ClassWallet contract) and we spoke to ClassWallet directly. We have been advised that ClassWallet engineers will be working over the weekend to get this fixed.”
During the Arizona State Board of Education’s meeting last week, parents questioned why a violation of federal law was happening again. They pleaded with the members to remedy these issues sooner rather than later. One ESA parent, Kelly Pichitino, admonished ADE for not cleaning up their act and ensuring any contract holders follow federal law after last year’s data breach.
“I would like to know why, for a second time, my child’s name is available for a stranger to view along with my personal information?” asked Pichitino. “[I] would think that the department would invest a little more thought and care, time and accountability into their actions.”
Further public commentary at the meeting also focused on other issues with the ESA system, such as inappropriate or incompetent staff behavior, apparently arbitrary denial of funds for educational needs, little to no communication and transparency, and relentless rule or policy changes.
These issues were also detailed in written comments, which are available here.
This isn’t the first time that ADE has compromised ESA members’ information unintentionally. As Arizona Capitol Times discovered and reported last January, the ADE failed to properly redact the personally-identifying information of all ESA account holders when fulfilling a public records request to three requestors, one of which was a group that actively campaigns against ESAs: Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ).
Exposed information included parents’ first and last names, email addresses, the grade of their student(s), and any disabilities if a particular student had special needs.
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) downplayed the data breach, saying that only “some” personal information was shared inadvertently.
“In the course of fulfilling a public records request to three individuals, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) inadvertently disclosed some personally identifiable information belonging to Empowerment Scholarship Account holders,” stated ADE. “ADE redacted the document subject to the public records request but failed to secure the integrity of the redaction prior to sending the data, and the document was able to be manipulated to reveal private information.”
PHOENIX — Rep. Michelle Udall, chair of the House Education Committee, sent a letter to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction asking why the state is holding on to $85 million, that Udall says could help school districts avoid teacher layoffs.
Udall also noted in her letter to Superintendent Kathy Hoffman that “in addition to withholding these millions from our schools, ADE is also spending more than $7 million of it to simply administer the funds (the maximum allowed).”
Udall’s questions come in the wake of several districts announcing layoffs due to declining enrollment. Declining enrollment means declining funding as school dollars are allocated based on attendance.
“Unfortunately, as we see from the current events in Gilbert and other districts facing similar decisions in the coming weeks, this money has not been allotted where it is needed most,” wrote Udall referring to reports of teacher layoffs.
From the Yellow Sheet:
The AZ Dept of Education plans to use some of its Covid relief dollars for a marketing campaign to bring families back to the fold. The campaign, which will cost about $150,000, is aimed at students who left district and charter schools for alternative options during the pandemic or who delayed enrollment.”
“Instead of allocating all of the available money to districts who need it, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) is for some reason holding onto nearly $85 million of discretionary money from the initial $1.5 billion allotment that should be put to use to help stabilize Arizona schools so that they don’t have to make premature reductions in staffing when many of those students may be returning in the coming school year.
Across the state, districts are seeing dramatic declines in enrollment as parents go in search of educational opportunities other than the hybrid-online type that the teacher’s union pushed even as the pandemic waned, and evidence showed that children were not super-spreaders. In fact, over 55,000 K-12 students have disenrolled for the state’s traditional public schools.
Despite the decline, which has been occurring over a number of years and was only exacerbated by the teachers’ recent refusal to return to in-classroom learning, Udall believes that students may return, and premature layoffs would lead the districts to rely on long-term substitute teachers.
Even though the ADE has received over $1 billion in CARES Act ESSER and ESSER II funding, Udall told Hoffman that the Legislature “is currently working on a state budget that, I believe, will help alleviate the intense fiscal pressure some of these schools are facing.”
“But that won’t happen until the budget process is finished,” warned Udall. “You currently have on hand millions in discretionary funds that could, and should, be made available immediately – discretionary funds that were given to the Arizona Department of Education for precisely this purpose.”
Hoffman responded on Twitter that the money was not enough.
It’s no secret that Arizona public schools need funds to stabilize their budgets and ensure that all students have access to high-quality educators and programs. Other school leaders and I have been ringing this alarm for months.
Udall and Hoffman may not believe there will ever be enough money for schools. On the other hand, parents who have fled the schools believe that there will never be again enough students to fill the schools and employ the teachers that abandoned their kids at such a critical time.