The Red for Ed movement that brought thousands of striking teachers to the Capitol this year could leave an unintended mark on state statute.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, wants to prevent public schools from closing on regularly
scheduled school days, threatening fines if they do. Her proposal in House Bill 2017 would prohibit district and charter schools from closing except during pre-approved breaks and holidays.
“People are saying, ‘Oh, you know, this is just a response to Red for Ed.’ Who’s saying it isn’t?” Townsend told the Arizona Capitol Times. “So many parents were inconvenienced. The students were inconvenienced and scared of what was going to happen if they had to stay beyond graduation day. Absolutely – and I don’t apologize – it is a response to Red for Ed.”
HB 2017 would allow for unanticipated closures in the event of a variety of potentially dangerous situations: “an invasion, hostile attack, riot, insurrection or other act of violence,” “an epidemic of disease or plague of insects” or “a flood of floodwaters,” for example.
The bill would also empower the attorney general, county attorneys or “any person” to file a suit in superior court where there is an alleged violation. If a violation did occur, the court could impose fines of no more than $5,000 against offenders. The language of the bill would require individuals to pay the fines rather than their districts.
Within HB 2017, Townsend also proposed an amendment to a state law forbidding the use of public school resources to influence elections to also bar the use of school resources to coordinate school closures.
“We saw massive amounts of 15.511 violations,” she said, referring to the law prohibiting electioneering in the classroom. “In all fairness, I don’t think a lot of people realized that that statute even existed because it’s just been an accepted part of this is what goes on in schools.”
She said people have to be educated about the law. But if that was her intention, she may have already missed the mark.
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas, a champion of the Red for Ed movement, said HB 2017 was “blind and deaf” to the message teachers brought to the Capitol in April.
“If this is how she’s going to address the teacher shortage, if this is how Rep. Townsend intends to address a completely underfunded system, overcrowded classrooms, then she has no business being down at the Capitol,” he said.
Now, tensions are stirring again in the wake of Townsend’s proposed legislation.
“If the intent is to anger educators and threaten them to where they feel like they have to do a repeat of last year, she’s going to be very successful,” Thomas warned.
Educators felt ignored, he said, but now, they expect solutions that go far beyond a pay raise.
“It’s about getting students the schools they deserve,” he said. “Educators are ready to see someone lead on that, and if it has to be them, they’ll lead again.”
Threats of recurring demonstrations at the Capitol aren’t phasing Townsend at this point.
Asked whether she has any concerns about goading teachers back into action, she said, “They’re going to have to make the decision if they’re going to do that again to the people of Arizona.”