Rep. Mark Finchem wants the State Board of Education to craft an educator code of ethics explicitly prohibiting politicking in the classroom – an activity already banned under state law.
The Oro Valley Republican’s proposal in House Bill 2002 would require the board to adopt uniform rules for all certified teachers in “taxpayer-supported schools” to bar them from a litany of political activities in school. Those include the endorsement or opposition of any candidate, nominee or elected or appointed official; any pending or enacted legislation, rule or regulation; any pending, proposed or decided court case; or any pending, proposed or executed executive action.
Finchem also proposes a prohibition on “any controversial issue that is not germane to the top of the course or academic subject,” where “controversial issue” is defined as “a point in a political party platform.”
But the bill seems to mirror prohibitions already in place under a state law that forbids the use of public school resources to influence elections. That would include advocating or opposing a candidate or the like during working hours.
Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman said the bill does not appear to be a genuine effort to improve the teaching profession, but rather a list of grievances.
“The fact of the matter is a bunch of teachers decided to organize outside of school time and they did an incredibly good job and they made a show of political will, and no one can believe they possibly were able to do that without cheating somehow,” he said. “Without using their district email, without telling all of their students how terrible the Legislature is.”
HB 2002 follows a year of heightened political activism among teachers, tens of thousands of whom swarmed the Capitol in April to strike for higher pay among other things.
Finchem at the time of the strike said it was “an incredible show of bad faith while we are working diligently to rearrange priorities within the state budget.”
“To leave the classroom, and put parents and children in the middle of a budget reorganization is quite the political statement. I am saddened to see professionals do this,” Finchem said.
He did not immediately return a request for comment.
Teachers and school employees are already keenly aware that they’re under a microscope in this regard, Kotterman said. But more importantly, state law has already addressed political activity.
“This just doesn’t feel serious to me. It feels 100 percent political,” he said of the bill. “If you were serious about having a teacher code of ethics, it would cover more than just stuff that seems to have happened in the last 24 months.”
It wasn’t just the Red for Ed movement that irked some lawmakers like Finchem.
One prominent Red for Ed organizer, music teacher Noah Karvelis, was specifically criticized for bringing what some legislators saw as inappropriate lyrics to his classroom.
Outgoing Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, wrote an op-ed for the The Arizona Republic after Karvelis taught the hip hop of Kendrick Lamar, whose lyrics, Syms wrote, include “we hate Popo (police), wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, (N-word).”
Finchem also proposed rules against engaging in any activity that would impede military recruiters’ access to campuses or actions by law enforcement.
And in addition to banning the segregation of students according to race, Finchem does not want teachers to be able to “single out one racial group of students as being responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.”
That provision seems to hint at Tucson Unified School District’s former Mexican American Studies program, of which Finchem has been a frequent critic. Kotterman caught that, too.
“We have been down this road. We have a law on the books about this. It’s been litigated three times,” he said. “Believe me when I say that school districts understand their responsibilities.”
HB 2002 concludes with an invitation to professional teacher organizations and unions to adopt a code of ethics voluntarily to prohibit “political indoctrination.”
Kotterman wondered if Finchem would use such language if he’d heard about teachers calling for limited regulations or reduced taxes.
“There’s never a problem of unethical conduct or bias when there’s conservative ideas on the table,” he said.
“The fact that teachers happen to teach children during the day does not mean they can’t get out and advocate for their profession just like firefighters and police officers do.”