Shiry Sapir, a mother of three who decided to run for public office after enduring the current state of K-12 schools in Arizona, became the first Clean Elections candidate for this year.
Sapir’s filing stands as one of the earliest submissions for any candidate, and reportedly the earliest for an Arizona Republican running for a statewide office. A Clean Elections qualification requires candidates don’t receive special interest or high-dollar contributions; for Sapir’s campaign, she had to raise $2,500 worth of $5 contributions. In addition to the clout, candidates may access the Citizens Clean Elections Fund.
Sapir’s qualification occurred despite Secretary of State Katie Hobbs shutting down the E-Qual system, which allows candidates the easier option of collecting contributions electronically.
In the primaries for the superintendent’s seat, Sapir would be contending with the likes of State Representative Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), who stands firm with the GOP on masking, vaccinations, and critical race theory, but departs on unfettered school choice.
Sapir announced her campaign for state superintendent last July. Since then, she’s earned the endorsements of State Representative and congressional candidate Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake); Andy Biggs’ wife, Cindy Biggs; Arizona Corporate Commission (ACC) Commissioner Jim O’Connor; and the AZ Coalition for Medical Freedom.
Incumbent Superintendent Kathy Hoffman ran her initial campaign as a Clean Elections candidate, and pledged last August to do the same this go around.
Sapir appeared before the House Education Committee last month to advocate for HB2495, citing the incident in Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) reported on by AZ Free News, in which two English teachers assigned a book laden with pornographic and other explicit material, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.”
“To me, this has nothing to do with homosexuality. It really doesn’t. I have nothing against homosexuality. I just don’t want any kind of sexuality coming in front of minors,” said Sapir.
State Representative Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) appeared flustered by Sapir’s stance and testimony, offering a backhanded compliment that Sapir would trust State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) because he was “obviously an expert in this [issue],” eliciting a chiding response from Udall, the committee chair. Hernandez then asked Sapir if she’s ever “had to defend her straight-ness as a person.” Udall intervened again, deeming Hernandez’s question irrelevant to the bill.
The House passed that bill that spurred Sapir’s back-and-forth with Hernandez last week.
An insulting comment emailed from the principal of a Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) elementary school to another employee in which she called some parents “whackos” and criticized the district board’s handling of a meeting has been called out by a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Diane Douglas called on PUSD Superintendent Dr. Jason Reynolds to publicly address “the overt and covert contempt which has been and continues to be expressed towards the community” by Tonja Neve, who is principal of the Desert Valley Elementary School in Glendale until June 30.
“That board meeting was ridiculous,” Neve wrote on Feb. 1 to Jennifer Mundy, an administrator of another district school. “”I’m sick of us giving these whackos a platform to spread propaganda without making any correction statements.” Neve was referring to about one dozen parents who addressed the board about Critical Race Theory.
Another email between Neve and Mundy that day shows the principal believed the administration “has some control to quiet those pushy voices.” She also provided information about a court case which reinforced the power of principals to set boundaries in parent-school communication.
Douglas directed her comments at Reynolds in an opinion published last week in the American Daily Independent. But she was not merely relying on her experience from 2015 to 2018 in a state executive office where she was responsible for ensuring the accurate and lawful distribution of nearly $6 billion in education funding.
In her comments, Douglas points out she has an even bigger reason for speaking up, having been elected as a member of the PUSD board from 2005 to 2012, serving as board president in 2008 and 2009.
Douglas’ letter was prompted by PUSD’s release of some of Neve’s emails in response to a public records request. There was also the fact the school’s American flag was displayed inverted on June 14 – Flag Day.
“As if an employee of a government school, funded by taxpayer dollars, referring to the parents and citizens who pay her salary as ‘whackos’ was not bad enough, now there is the displaying of an inverted American flag,” Douglas noted to Reynolds. “Such utter disrespect to our country and the very citizens she is hired to serve would be disgraceful on any day. But that such a stunt occurred on June 14th Flag Day –the day we honor and commemorate the adoption of the American Flag– makes it all the more inexcusable and unforgivable.”
Douglas added that “the only saving grace is that school is out of session and the students weren’t witness to such blatant disrespect of our flag by an entity of the very government it represents.”
Neve’s contract with PUSD expires June 30 after which she will move her family to take a principal position at an elementary school in New Hampshire. Earlier this month she issued a statement about her emails.
“My comments were unprofessional and I apologize for that,” Neve said. “My comments were in regards to audience members who were coming to our board and calling teachers out by name and misconstruing and devaluing the hard work they do. My comment was made in the heat of the moment and in defense of my profession and colleagues.”
But Neve’s departure should not be the end of issue, Douglas told Reynolds.
“With all due respect, in my humble opinion, the Board and the PUSD community are entitled to an explanation as to how administration intends to handle such incidents of disrespect toward the community going forward,” she wrote.
Following the dissatisfaction with the education system last year, the Superintendent of Public Instruction race this year is bound to witness a huge turnout of parents and taxpayers. The recent school closings have been a source of frustration for many parents since they have coughed up a significant amount of money to keep their children in school.
The education system has not been kind to the parents due to the coronavirus outbreak, which forced all schools closed in order to avoid putting students at risk of contracting the virus. However, the education sector has not been resilient in its work and should have invented preventive measures to ensure that students returned to learning after a short period. The closing of schools indefinitely caused the taxpayer’s money to be wasted as money was already dispersed to the Department of Education to cater to education needs.
The general public is disappointed by the fact that around 7.1 billion dollars were spent on education, yet schools remained closed for a more extended period than deemed necessary by some.
Most working-class parents have been frustrated by the closures since their children needed extra care than they would have if schools were opened. Some financially unstable families also depend on schools for childcare and food for their children. The parents were forced to spend more to cater to their children’s welfare when they had already paid for school fees and taxes to keep them in school. This was a extra burden as some parents lost their jobs during the pandemic, and some had to close their business permanently. With more than 124,000 schools closed, many children were affected, and some were forced to drop out of schools after they reopened due to challenging financial situations their families faced.
Catherine Barrett, an Arizona Master Teacher, has been called “the bravest teacher advocate in the state” by educators and lawmakers. She holds Masters degree in Education and had been teaching for 19 years.