Correction: A former version of this story identified Anytown Leadership Program as the source of the controversial programming. Anytown Leadership Program responded to our request for comment post-publication to clarify that the programming came from their predecessor organization, identified as Anytown Arizona.
On a further note: As news of this controversy circulated, threats against the campers and staffers were reported. This is impermissible. AZ Free News does not condone or encourage threats of violence of any kind.
Another club within Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) has stirred up controversy over its social justice programming, “Unitown,” for its engagement with hot-button issues like sexuality and anti-racism. Though they’ve attracted national attention, SUSD’s Unitown clubs aren’t new or unique to the district. Unitown clubs and camps have existed within Arizona schools for decades.
The Arizona Daily Independent first reported on SUSD’s Unitown. They shared emails in which SUSD staff and teachers discussed implementation of the sexuality programming offered by the now-defunct social justice instructional organization Anytown Arizona: the “Safe Zone” and “Sexual Orientation” curriculum.
The Sexual Orientation curriculum included a skit titled “Herman’s Head,” in which a gender-confused child deals with their upset and confused parents, church, best friend, and current partner while dealing with the happiness of their potential partner. The minor playing the role of the gender-confused child is encouraged to pretend to contemplate suicide with a toy gun after pretending to handle the pressures of their friends and family.
That curriculum also included a “Sexual Orientation Exercise,” which asked the following questions of students:
What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
When and how did you first decide that you were a heterosexual?
Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase that you may just grow out of?
Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good gay/lesbian lover?
To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies?
Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your lifestyle?
Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can’t you just be who you are and keep quiet?
Would you want your children to be heterosexual, knowing all the problems they’d face?
A disproportionate majority (side note: the actual figure is 98 percent) of child molesters are heterosexuals. Do you consider it safe to expose our children to heterosexual teachers?
Even with all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?
Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?
Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual?
Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don’t you fear that the therapist might be inclined to influence you in the direction of his/her own learnings?
How can you become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive exclusive heterosexuality and fail to develop your natural, healthy homosexual potential?
There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed that might enable you to change if you really want to. Have you considered electro-shock therapy?
Anytown Arizona wrote on the questionnaire that the goal was to reduce homophobia and create more straight allies. They wrote that homophobia was “an unrealistic fear or generalized negative attitude based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The Safe Zone curriculum included the “Gender Unicorn,” one of the common visuals to argue that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum — similar to “Genderbread,” as reported on last year by AZ Free News. The visual was paired with reading assignments explaining further what’s taught using the Gender Unicorn.
SUSD launched their Unitown decades ago alongside a “Minitown.” Former SUSD Superintendent David Peterson described the programs in 2015 as opportunities to recognize and address racism, bigotry, bullying, prejudice, and intolerance. However, Unitown existed in SUSD for years before that. Back in 2005, students toldEast Valley Tribune that they were focusing on stereotyping, racial issues, and diversity in the SUSD club.
Other Arizona schools hosted or advocated for Unitown clubs and camps for decades. Up until around 2015, Greenway High School in the Glendale Union High School District engaged in Unitown activities.
As reported in the East Valley Tribune, the city of Chandler launched Unitown camps in 2003 based on the Anytown Leadership Camp. Even then, they focused on social justice issues in addition to leadership. It doesn’t appear that the Chandler-sponsored Unitown camp occurs anymore.
Some are confusing SUSD’s Unitown with the Unitown offered by Anytown Leadership Program, whose predecessor and affiliated organizations came up with Unitown decades ago. Their president, Amber Checky, told AZ Free News that SUSD has been running their Unitown independently since Anytown Arizona was shuttered around 2009.
In addition to Unitown, Anytown Leadership Program offers “Anytown Junior” workshops on social-emotional learning for K-5 students, the “Empowertown” in-school program on social justice issues for grades 6-12, and the “Minitown” condensed version of the summer camp for middle school students.
Anytown Leadership Program announced that they’re working on “CampusTown” for college students. The program plans on contracting with Arizona’s colleges to “create inclusive campuses and support activism and advocacy.”
Checky told AZ Free News that no schools are utilizing these current school programs at present.
The organization classifies their school programs as condensed versions of their $490 annual week-long camp occurring for 75 high schoolers. Of note, program staffers confiscate campers’ phones and prohibit them from speaking to their families while attending. In return, the high schoolers receive 50 hours of certified leadership training/service.
This year, the program has over 42 high schools represented.
The woke, TikTok famous elementary school teacher nominated by the Arizona Secretary of State’s office last year for her classroom activism, Amanda Delphy, is one of the camp staffers. In a TikTok posted this week, Delphy credited the camp for making her into the person she is today.
The Anytown Leadership Program receives taxpayer dollars for work. The organization recently received a grant from Arizona Humanities, a nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for Humanities — the funding source of their grants.
Anytown Leadership Program began in the 1950s, arising from a 1927 initiative responding to anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiments at the time: the National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ), later renamed in 1998 to the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ). They closed their operations and had a brief hiatus in the early 2000s before relaunching under new leadership.
Prior to 2009, each Arizona high school nominated two students to represent them at one of the program’s eight Anytown Leadership Camps held every summer.
The 2008 recession caused the original Anytown Leadership Camp to be shuttered in 2009. Alumni resurrected the program in 2014, making it into its present-day form focusing on social justice issues like diversity, equity, and inclusion.
NCCJ offers an “Anytown” programming similar to the Phoenix-based Anytown Leadership Program.
Upcoming sessions for virtual NCCJ Anytown programming concern “dismantling anti-blackness,” anti-racism, DEI (short for diversity, equity, and inclusion), and “understanding sizeism” (prejudice or discrimination against individuals based on their weight). These sessions focus on one or several of the “9 Identities”: ageism, dress code sexism, heterosexism, human trafficking, microaggressions, racism, religionism, sexism, and sizeism.
The 9 Identities have forthcoming bulletins on the NCCJ resource page to explain their place in the world of social justice. The other bulletins address social justice definitions as a whole, ableism, adultism, Black Lives Matter, cissexism, classism, colorism, consent, cultural appropriation, environmental justice, homelessness, internalization, intersectionality, neurodiversity, privilege, veteran’s affairs, and women’s rights.
State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) lamented Anytown’s shift in focus.
SUSD parent Amanda Wray — one of the individuals included in the dossier compiled by former SUSD board president Jann-Michael Greenburg’s father, Mark Greenburg — told AZ Free News that the programming should inspire parents to rethink their approach when addressing these controversial topics.
“Conservatives need to stop using the term ‘CRT.’ What’s happening isn’t about a legal framework being taught in schools — we know K-12 students are not learning legal theories. What is happening is radical, racial division being taught not only to distract from the decline in public school academics, but it is indisputably to train students to become social activists,” said Wray. “This camp, which started out years ago as a wonderful way to unite students and respect other‘s differences, seems to have morphed into yet another form of social justice activist training. And it’s unwittingly being funded by taxpayers.”
A number of recognizable names are listed among Anytown Leadership Program supporters: the Arizona Coyotes, the Fiesta Bowl, Starbucks, Peoria Diamond Club, Amazon, Bank of America, PayPal, Target, Aldi, and CVS Health.
Those who fund over $7,500 to Anytown Leadership Program include the Arizona Community Foundation, the Arizona Coyotes Foundation, the David Frazier Endowment Fund, and the Fiesta Bowl Charities. Those who fund between $5,000 to $7,500 include Phoenix Pride, the Robert Cialdini and Bobette Gorden Family Foundation, Rob Jaimes, Sandy Fromm, and Voya Financial.
Those who fund between $1,000 to $5,000 include the Peoria Diamond Club; the Starbucks Foundation; David Gass; Fromm, Smith, & Gadow, P.C.; and Matt Case. Those who fund over $500 to $1,000 annually include Bank of America, Brock Insurance Services, David Gale, Diane Geimer, Jennifer Gadow, John Boyle, Leida and Greg Davis, Lisa Stone, Nancy Fromm, Phoenix Pediatrics, and Spire Health Club.
SB1211, which would require schools to publish curriculum lists on their websites, failed in the House 28-30 on Monday.
The votes weren’t panning out in the way Republicans hoped, so several legislators voted to kill the bill in order to salvage it for later discussions. State Representatives Joel John (R-Buckeye), Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), and Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) voted with Democrats to kill the bill. Kaiser explained during the floor vote that he and Wilmeth did so in order to keep it active and open for discussion.
John, however, argued as a former teacher that the bill was too much of a burden for educators. He characterized the transparency bill as an “unfunded mandate” foisted on those in a “low-paying, thankless job.” John issued the false claim that he was only one of two other educators in the House. Other past and present educators include State Representatives Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek), Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix), Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), and Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler).
“The laws are quite robust already. I think this bill frankly goes too far and puts too many extra burdens [on teachers], as some of our colleagues have already pointed out,” said John.
Kaiser responded that the laws clearly don’t go far enough because K-12 schools are rampant with transparency issues.
“The reason we need to have a bill about this is because there’s problems happening in schools across Arizona,” said Kaiser. “If you don’t think this is a problem, look at the board [of votes]. This is a direct reflection of what’s happening to parents in schools. ‘There’s not a problem,’ they say. ‘Go home,’ they say. ‘We gave you a thumbnail sketch of what we’re talking about, go home.’ I’m so disappointed in how these votes are turning out.”
Apart from John, teacher perspectives on the bill differed along party lines.
Udall, a current teacher, supported the bill. She suggested that additional funding should be established to help ease the additional burdens of the bill. Udall noted the importance of proactive forms of transparency, rather than retroactive.
Conversely, Pawlik, also a teacher, asserted that educators shouldn’t have to be concerned about posting last-minute tweaks to curriculum or learning materials. Pawlik argued that it would not only inhibit teachers’ flexibility, but ultimately stunt students’ education.
The Senate passed the bill along party lines last month. Left-wing activist organizations celebrated the bill’s rejection.
SB1211 would enable parents access to all curriculum, learning materials, and teacher training at their school, organized by subject, grade, and teacher. Democratic legislators argued that parents should switch schools if they weren’t happy with the transparency at their current schools. They contended further that the legislation would create more red tape and punishment for educators. One legislator went so far as to argue that the bill constituted an effort to control speech.
If the Republican representatives hold to their promise, SB1211 may be resurrected this session in one form or another. As of press time, no exact solution was made apparent.
The Arizona Senate has passed legislation which would prohibit a hospital or health care provider from imposing any treatment for COVID-19 or a variant but the bill has stalled in the House where Speaker Rusty Bowers has not scheduled it for its First Reading.
According to sponsor Sen. Nancy Barto, the legislative intent of Senate Bill 1393 is to confirm that public policy makes it “a fundamental right” to refuse any COVID-19 treatment or vaccination. Yet despite clearing the Senate on March 15, House Speaker Rusty Bowers has yet to allow the bill to have its First Reading in that chamber.
SB1393 would allow health care providers to ask a patient to specify in writing the circumstances under which the patient would accept a COVID-19 treatment if the patient cannot later express his or her consent. For purposes of the proposed legislation, a health care provider is defined as a licensed physician, a licensed nurse practitioner, or a licensed physician assistant.
The bill also requires a hospital or health care provider to ensure a patient who refuses a COVID-19 treatment is counseled and given information on other treatment options. No treatment could be mandated without a patient’s informed consent.
In addition, a patient orimmediate family of the patient would have to be advised of the patient’s right to leave a hospital; immediate family is described as a patient’s spouse, parent, child, sibling grandparent, or legal guardian.
Barto’s co-sponsors on SB1393 were Senators Sine Kerr, David Livingston, and Warren Petersen. The bill was supposed to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, but without a First Reading that could not occur.
The Arizona Medical Association and most of the state’s hospitals oppose the bill.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee received a welcome surprise from 10-year-old Adam Fraleigh, when the little boy with Down syndrome thanked them for hearing his family’s testimony by hugging each senator present.
Adam’s father, John Fraleigh, brought Adam to address a bill that would include Down syndrome among the developmental disabilities recognized by the Department of Economic Security (DES) for its programs, services, and facilities. The pair matched in their attire: gray vests, light purple dress shirts, and purple ties.
Fraleigh gave a brief medical explanation of what makes Down syndrome a developmental disability. He cited the many medical procedures Adam has undergone in his 10 short years, and the likely many more ahead for the rest of his life.
“Requiring paperwork to consistently prove the effects of Down syndrome is wrong. Please pass this bill to demonstrate the understanding that Down syndrome is a disability, a cognitive disability,” said Fraleigh. “My son will require additional resources forever. With that, I’m open for questions, he’s open for hugs.”
Adam rushed over after his father’s testimony to hug each committee member, pulling them close and patting everyone vigorously on the back. He brought a welcome break from a long, packed legislative season, inspiring smiles and laughter from all in the room.
State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) thanked Fraleigh for bringing Adam, noting that he brightened their day.
“Thank you; he brightens my day every day,” responded Fraleigh.
The bill passed the House unanimously last month.
Currently, the list of developmental disabilities under DES doesn’t include Down syndrome, but does include autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability diagnosis, epilepsy, or diagnosed as at-risk for developing these disabilities.
A bill to require K-12 schools to post all curriculum and learning materials on their website passed the State Senate along party lines, 16-13. It now heads to the House for consideration.
Senate Democrats argued that the bill would hinder teachers’ ability to have flexible, constantly changing lesson plans. State Senator Christine Marsh (D-Phoenix) said that while she agrees “100 percent” with transparency, she said that the bill would result in a slew of unintended consequences. Marsh claimed that teachers would be too busy uploading curriculum data to spend additional time with students.
Some Arizona teachers complained that they can’t meet the requirements of the bill because there would be no way to have their curriculum done in time for review. The bill sponsor, State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) rebutted that claim during the Senate’s vote on Monday, explaining that what was required of teachers concerned a list of material titles “like a syllabus.”
“It’s been even testified by opponents, teachers who oppose the bill, even in their testimony they were saying they already do something like this,” said Barto. “What it will require is merely putting up the title of what they’re teaching of their lesson plans every week. And not the entire year in advance, which some somehow translate this bill as requiring. Nope. It’s within seven days after, so they just have to use something like a Google Doc, which many are using already — it was testified over and over again.”
Barto cited a study that teachers spend an average of four hours a week searching for material to use in their classrooms.
Some Republicans expressed reluctance to have their vote fall in line with the party.
State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) expressed that the bill was a step in the direction but failed to get at the root of the problem with Arizona’s school system. Ugenti-Rita claimed that the problems concerned leadership, teacher’s unions, and nonpartisan school board members.
“Putting up loads and loads of information isn’t really going to solve the problem we have in K-12,” said Ugenti-Rita. “This is really not enough to get at the problem. This will leave parents with the impression that something is done when nothing is done. I don’t know what our obsession is with putting things online but you need to really go after the sacred cow, and it’s not the materials online, it’s the elections — these nonpartisan school board elections.”
Ugenti-Rita also expressed concerns that the bill was “intense and overkill.” She asked for commitment from House leadership to make the legislation implementable.
“To me, this is like a supplement. It’s like if you had real, deep health problems, a vitamin isn’t going to fix it. You need to diet, you need to exercise. This is helpful, but it’s really not going to get at the problem at our schools. This isn’t going to keep schools open. This is really going to do very little than look as though we’re doing something,” said Ugenti-Rita.
State Senator Tyler Pace (R-Mesa) said bills like Barto’s were the reason he took heartburn pills over the summer. Pace said he disliked the broad scope of what information educators would have to upload. However, Pace admitted there was a need for curriculum transparency, citing his own experience in which he learned a teacher allowed his kids’ class to play games like “Cupcake Vampire Princess Makeup Tutorials” after they finished an exam.
Other Republicans normally on the fence with certain party initiatives supported the bill wholeheartedly. State Senator Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) rebutted that the legislation wouldn’t be a burden on teachers, citing his own experience. Boyer insisted that it would alleviate current burdens on parents as well as benefit teachers looking to improve their curriculum by looking at what teachers are using at successful schools.
Passage of the bill comes over a month after the Senate Education Committee approved the bill.