District and charter schools have been under much more scrutiny from parents since COVID-19, and one bill from an Arizona Representative this session seeks to increase awareness and understanding on what is being taught in children’s classrooms.
The legislation, HB 2533, which was introduced by Representative John Gillette, deals with posting requirements for classroom instruction. According to the overview provided by the State House of Representatives, this bill “directs a school district or charter school, for each school, to post a free electronic copy of specified classroom instruction materials on its website.” These materials include “each educational course of study offered, a list of all learning materials being used (including the source of any supplemental educational materials, and each lesson plan being used or implemented.”
Representative Gillette’s piece of legislation has 13 co-sponsors both in the House (Representatives Biasiucci, Grantham, Gress, Harris, Jones, Kolodin, Marshall, B. Parker, Peña, and Smith) and Senate (Senators Borrelli, Rogers, and Shamp).
HB 2533 passed out of the Education Committee on Tuesday, February 14, with a party-line 6-3 vote – with one member absent. Republican Representatives David Cook, Liz Harris, Lupe Diaz, Michele Peña, David Marshall, Sr (Vice Chairman), and Beverly Pingerelli (Chairman) voted in favor; while Democrat Representatives Jennifer Pawlik, Laura Terech, and Nancy Gutierrez voted against passage. Democrat Representative Judy Schwiebert was absent from committee action Tuesday and did not cast a vote.
After introducing his bill on January 24, Representative Gillette tweeted a picture of the bill and co-sponsor list, writing, “You demanded school transparency during the campaign…This will require public schools to put the curriculum, program of instruction and vendor on-line free of charge.”
In an exclusive interview with AZ Free News on why he supports this legislation, Representative Austin Smith (and bill co-sponsor) said, “Curriculum transparency is paramount for parents to have total autonomy over what their children learn in school. This is a great step in the right direction for parents.”
Senator Sonny Borrelli, also a co-sponsor of HB 2533, told AZ Free News that he supported this bill because “transparency to empower parental authority is a good thing.” Responding to a question from AZ Free News on this bill, House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci stated, “This bill will allow parents to know exactly what is being taught to their children.”
This bill generated a great deal of interest – both in support and opposition – in the lead-up to the committee hearing and vote. The Arizona Association of County School Superintendents, Stand for Children, the Arizona School Administrators Association, the Arizona Education Association, Save Our Schools Arizona, the American Civil Liberties Union of AZ, and the Arizona Charter Schools Association were recorded among the hundreds opposing HB 2533 in the Arizona Legislature’s system.
The Center for Arizona Policy listed HB 2533 as one of its “Other Bills of Interest.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
The Arizona Senate Education Committee passed a bill to ensure K-12 schools afford greater transparency to parents concerning the content and adoption procedures for curriculum and all other learning materials. The bill, SB1211, passed 5-3 along party lines. 20 states have introduced similar legislation; the Wisconsin legislature passed a similar bill last year but their governor vetoed it; most recently, the Indiana House moved another similar bill forward. However, no other state has the same legislative language as SB1211.
Specifically, the 14-page bill would require schools to post online in a searchable manner all learning material adoption procedures as well as the content organized by subject, grade, and teacher. The specified learning material covered requires readings, videos, audio, digital materials, websites, instructional handouts, worksheets, apps, assemblies, guest lectures, civics assignments or projects, and service learning projects. Any educational materials concerning nondiscrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, bias, action-oriented civics, service learning, or social and emotional competencies must be referenced in full online at least 72 hours before implementation. Materials outside that scope must be posted online within a week of their implementation and remain accessible on the site for two years. The bill also would require schools to allow all throughout the school day as well as a half an hour before and after school hours for textbook review prior to adoption.
Parents could seek redress for violations of this bill by first submitting a complaint to the school principal. If the principal doesn’t investigate and respond within 15 days, or the response doesn’t solve the issue satisfactorily, parents could submit a complaint to their school board. If the board doesn’t respond adequately or at all within 25 days, then parents may take legal action against the school’s governing body. No teachers would be subject to punishment.
State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) insisted all she was introducing was a “simple […] common-sense transparency bill.” Barto clarified that the bill would allow parents a heads-up about what their children would learn.
“So many parents are so frustrated at not having access to what their children are learning in schools. There are so many things that are accessible online now, and curriculum needs to be one of them,” said Barto.
Parent after parent highlighted personal and local incidents concerning willful lack of transparency from their schools and districts. In addition to parents, the Arizona Coalition of School Board Members and Heritage Action for America showed up to support the bill. A handful of teachers, most of them masked, and the Arizona Education Association (AEA) spoke out against the bill. They argued that the bill would create an undue burden on teachers and districts, foster distrust and malcontent between parents and teachers, and even further reduce educational quality. The Arizona Charter School Association (ACSA) was also reportedly against the bill, according to State Senator Gonzales, but none of their representatives gave testimony before the committee on Tuesday.
The first to provide public commentary on the bill was none other than Nicole Solas — the Rhode Island parent sued by her state’s teacher’s union, the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) for her public record requests and represented by the Goldwater Institute, the Phoenix-based conservative public policy and litigative think tank.
Solas told the committee that her story was a cautionary tale of what occurs when a state doesn’t have academic transparency. Her story began when she requested information about the education her daughter would receive, and learned that the school taught about gender at every grade level in “age-appropriate ways,” as well as teaching five-year-olds on the first day of Thanksgiving what could’ve been done differently during the pilgrim’s Thanksgiving. When Solas attempted to ask more questions about the curriculum, her school told her to submit public records requests. After doing so, the school board of her district put her name on the agenda of a public meeting with a threat to sue her for her records requests.
Solas recalled how the five hour meeting was filled with public harassment and open debates on her moral character and motivations by the board members. Solas shared further that her district then hired a public relations firm to defame her in the national media. The local teacher’s union then decided to sue Solas for filing those records requests. Even after enduring all of that eight months later, Solas said her original requests have gone unanswered. All she received was outdated curriculum; the district told her she hadn’t asked specifically for the current curriculum.
“What they did to me was government abuse of power just because I wanted to know what was being taught,” said Solas. “This is a kafkaesque, bureaucratic problem with a very easy academic solution.”
It wasn’t just the blame from the district that presented a problem to Solas — it was the cost of the records requested. Solas insisted that the cost to districts to fulfill public records requests was unnecessary, and that public schools needed to be protected from squandering their education dollars.
“Pass this bill for public schools and you can save them from themselves. We need our education dollars to be spent on students, not on a petty stand-off between schools and parents,” said Solas. “These are the games they play with public records requests. Our children’s education is not a game.”
Majority Leader Rick Gray (R-Sun City) said Solas’ story was heartbreaking to hear, and expressed condolences for the plight of New Jersey’s children.
“They wanted to send a message that if you want transparency […] they will retaliate against you and punish you for asking for transparency,” relayed Solas.
State Senator Christine Marsh (D-Phoenix) asked Solas if New Jersey had a parental bill of rights similar to Arizona’s. She added that she didn’t understand what Solas’ issue had to do with Arizona schools. Solas said they don’t have anything like that in her state, and informed Marsh that the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute is representing her for the lawsuit.
Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg offered insight from Arizona teachers in support of the bill. He read a letter from Jessica, an English teacher, who described how she covered over 70 absences in one week and insisted on the bill because it provided an “easy safeguard” for creating a “workshop” between families and schools.
“This bill is pro-student, pro-parent, and pro-teacher,” asserted Beienburg.
State Senator Tyler Pace (R-) asked what a pragmatic solution would be, instead of this bill. Thomas said the best solutions would be at the local level. He said parents already had “a lot of tools” to get the transparency they need.
“The unintended consequence of this is that kids are going to suffer in that their interests aren’t going to be explored at any given instance during the day,” asserted Marsh.
Gray pressed AEA President Joe Thomas, who insisted that better answers were to be had, to give them a tangible solution. Thomas couldn’t. Instead he repeated that parents had the tools to investigate the curriculum themselves. Gray insisted that wasn’t enough of an answer.
“When we see this as a legislative body and this is brought to us, it is our responsibility to see what we can do to solve this problem. Ideally we would never get this problem here because the schools would take care of it,” responded Gray. “We don’t have any solutions from the education industry, but we clearly have problems from the parents.”
In closing public remarks, Beienburg cited how an AEA spokeswoman last year reported that she submitted curriculum materials regularly to her district officials for review.
“That’s indicative of the fact that this is doable,” said Beienburg.
Reading, writing, arithmetic…these aren’t controversial topics, and neither should be the education of our children. Kids are supposed to go to school to learn life skills and become productive members of society. This isn’t complicated. And yet, schools are increasingly becoming the primary tool of a radical agenda to indoctrinate children in leftist ideology.
Take the 1619 Project for example. Various schools across the country have adopted a history curriculum centered on this series of essays from The New York Times,which claims that the United States was actually founded on slavery in the year 1619.
But the radicalization doesn’t stop there.
A school district policy in Madison, Wisconsin not only helps children adopt transgender identities, but it instructs teachers to lie about it to parents.
And right here in Peoria, Arizona, parents are dealing with similar frustrations after district officials denied them access to review learning materials that appear to be based on the principles of the Black Lives Matter organization.
In a year that’s already been challenging enough for parents as they’ve navigated through COVID, online learning, “sick outs,” and more, you would think that school districts would seek to build trust with them.
But apparently some public schools are too committed to their agenda.
Thankfully, the Arizona Senate is seeking to create more transparency through SB1058. This bill, which has now been transmitted to the House, requires district and charter schools to post a list of procedures used to review and approve learning materials on a prominent portion of their websites. In addition, they would also have to post procedures by which a parent can review learning materials in advance.
But what about district and charter schools that do not have such procedures? They would have to clearly state this on their websites.
While Arizona law currently allows for parents to review learning materials, the process hasn’t always been easy. And many parents have grown frustrated by officials who block access to curriculum.
But SB1058 would allow for more transparency from schools without burdening the staff. This should be a win-win for everyone involved, except of course for schools that have something to hide.
After all, any school that’s currently featuring the 1619 Project as part of its history curriculum probably doesn’t want parents to know that several renowned historians have criticized it for being inaccurate and pushing a false narrative. And they also probably don’t want them to know that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the architect behind the 1619 Project, has admitted that the whole point behind it is to make an argument for slavery reparations.
But a bill like SB1058 would help bring this to light. And while more work needs to be done, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Parents have a right to know if ahistorical and fringe topics are being taught to their children. And now the House needs to pass this essential piece of legislation to give parents the transparency they deserve from the schools their children attend.
Parents, like those in the Peoria Unified School District, are praising a bill, SB1058, which requires district and charter schools to post a list of procedures used to review and approve learning materials and procedures by which a parent can review learning materials in advance.
If the district does not have procedures used to review and approve learning materials, the bill requires them to post a “clear statement that no such procedures or processes are in effect at the school.”
While the bill has been stripped of meaningful reforms, supporters say the bill is a baby step in the right direction even if it only brings much needed attention to what is going on in Arizona’s K-12 classrooms.
Last week, Peoria parents attempted to share their concerns with district officials about lesson plans that involve and appeared to be based on the principles forwarded by the political organization, Black Lives Matter.
Not only were parents not advised that students would be exposed to curriculum of a highly controversial and clearly partisan nature, they were denied access to review the learning materials.
Barto’s bill at least provides them with a clear path to curriculum review, say education experts.
This week, the Arizona Department of Education released a report showing a dramatic decrease in public school enrollments compared to last year. Public enrollment is down by approximately 38,000 students for the 2020-2021 school year compared to last year.