Over the past three years, many parents in a number of school districts across the nation have demanded more transparency and involvement with their children’s education. The Republican-led Arizona Legislature has been working on solutions, and Members have introduced new bills this session to give parents the access and information that they have been requesting.
Representative Justin Heap has introduced one of those bills, HB 2786, which deals with requirements for parental notification for teacher training. The bill “mandates a school district governing board develop parental notification and access procedures if the school district is involved with a training for teachers or administrators,” according to the bill overview provided by the Arizona House of Representatives. If passed by the Legislature and signed into law, the bill would “require a school governing board to notify parents of these trainings and give parents access to any printed or digital materials used for the training.” It also stipulates that the governing boards adopt “a policy to provide parents the information contained in its parental involvement policy in an electronic format.”
In an exclusive interview with AZ Free News on why he introduced this legislation, Representative Heap stated, “Transparency will have the added benefit of bringing school district and school boards back into alignment with the values of the parents of the students they serve. The knowledge that their training materials must be made public will discourage school districts from implementing policies that are hateful to the parents of students in their districts. If any school district official, any school board member, principal, or teacher believes that what is going on in their schools should be hidden from the parents in their district, then they have no business being involved in education.”
The legislation currently has ten co-sponsors: Representatives Neal Carter, Lupe Diaz, Liz Harris, Rachel Jones, Teresa Martinez, Cory McGarr, Barbara Parker, Jacqueline Parker, Michele Peña, and Beverly Pingerelli.
On Tuesday, February 14, HB 2786 cleared the House Education Committee with a 6-4 party-line vote. 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, Judy Schwiebert, and Nancy Gutierrez voted against passage.
Representative Pingerelli gave the following statement to AZ Free News on why she decided to hold a hearing on this bill in her committee: “Parents should have information readily available about what teachers are learning as part of their professional development programs. Are they receiving instruction about better ways to teach reading, math, or science? Or, as was pointed out during the February 14 hearing and testimony, are the topics covered controversial, ideological or morally objectionable to parents? As I’ve always stated, the focus in K-12 education should be academics. Since it is a reasonable assumption that the training teachers receive is translated into classroom instruction, parents should have the right to be informed. That’s why I decided to hear House Bill 2786 in my committee.”
HB 2786 generated much opposition leading up to and during the hearing in the Education Committee, starting with the Arizona House Democrats. They posted that Representative Heap’s bill demands that “parents get to review every type of training teacher gets (including copyrighted materials),” adding that “he was upset when he learned teachers can get training about equity, inclusion and cultural sensitivity. The Arizona Education Association tweeted that “teachers need to focus on students’ learning – not spend all their time trying to satisfy the demands of people who see our classrooms as a way to score political points.”
Representative Heap disagrees with these analyses of the bill, saying, “I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. My bill does not ban this teacher training, or any training, which a school district wishes to implement. It simply requires that if a school district requires, endorses, recommends, funds, or facilitates teacher training programs then they must make all those materials used (Digital or Physical) in that training available for parents to review.”
Due to the partisan breakdown of HB 2786s support and opposition in the early stages at the Arizona Legislature, it is highly likely that Democrat Katie Hobbs would veto this bill should it pass through both chambers and reach the Ninth Floor later this session.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
A new law will take effect in Arizona this summer to prevent state officials from shutting down churches or religious services during a public health or public safety emergency.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2507 on Monday, defining a religious service as an essential service during a declared state of emergency. The legislation also protects the fundamental right of Arizonans to exercise their religion freely during a time of crisis and further protects a religious organization from discrimination when it operates or seeks to operate during a state of emergency.
HB2507, which was sponsored by House Republican Majority Leader Ben Toma, notes the U.S. Constriction expressly protects the free exercise of religion, including the right to hold beliefs inwardly and secretly as well as the right “to act on those beliefs outwardly and publicly.”
Toma, who received bipartisan support for HB2507 in the House, said he introduced the bill to ensure Arizonans’ religious freedoms are forever protected.
“During the pandemic, while Arizona was blessed with government leaders that respected religious freedom and the essential role of religious organizations to the people, that wasn’t the situation in some neighboring states,” Toma said. “This law ensures that religious freedom and services in Arizona will continue to be protected in the future, regardless of any emergency, or who leads the state.”
Rep. Lupe Diaz, himself a pastor, said religion is an essential service and religious freedom is essential, which was especially true during the pandemic when Arizonans were facing so many challenges.
“As we look at being able to exercise our religious liberties, which is a constitutional right, it is amazing that we can be denied gathering at churches, yet have stadiums, malls and box stores open,” Diaz said last week in explaining his vote for HB2507.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, also applauded the signing of HB2507 into law. She noted that while public officials have the authority to protect health and public safety, they cannot suspend the First Amendment, including the free exercise of religion.
“By signing HB 2507 the Governor acknowledges the fact that religious organizations provide essential services that are vital to the health and welfare of the public,” Herrod said Monday. “They not only meet the spiritual needs of our communities, but they also support social services, health care, and economic activity.”
Both the House Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education Committees approved a bill preventing K-12 schools from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for attendance. HB2086 passed narrowly along party lines: 5-4 in the former, 6-4 in the latter.
State Representative Joanne Osborne (R-Goodyear) insisted during the Education Committee hearing on Tuesday that this bill safeguards parental rights. Osborne relayed how she heard that some high schools were considering masking mandates for student athletes.
“Some may ask why is this necessary now? It’s not being mandated. I want to make sure it stays that way,” said Osborne. “I’m not a health physician, but I am a parent. I am speaking up because this is not a childhood disease. I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but I am going to say to parents: talk to your doctors about this.”
Osborne clarified that she wasn’t opposed to vaccination requirements for other diseases, because traditional vaccinations have been established for their safety and efficacy for years.
State Representative Lupe Diaz (R-Hereford) said the vaccination requirement reminded him of China’s social credit system, and insisted that vaccination requirements for participation in public systems was tantamount to weaponization.
State Representative John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) noted that this was only a “tiny step toward freedom.”
As a rebuttal to the logic of the bill, State Representative Judy Schwiebert (D-Phoenix) said that broad vaccine exemptions are already in place, calling the bill “redundant.” State Representative Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) added onto Schwiebert’s argument, arguing that Arizona already has strong parental choice laws in other regards, such as school choice.
During the HHS Committee meeting last week, State Representative Melody Hernandez (D-Tempe) said that forcing quarantine for healthy students who aren’t sick is important to keep everyone around the children safe. Hernandez claimed that the opt-out process was sufficient for parental choice.
However, Heather Rooks, a mother of four, pointed out during the Education Committee that even with religious or medical exemptions, unvaccinated students may be forcibly quarantined with an outbreak, which the state defines as two or more cases. Committee policy aides verified that this was correct.
State Representative Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria), a Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) governing board member, declared that children had suffered too much already.
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.”