A Senate panel on Tuesday passed Republican-sponsored bills increasing parents’ power to veto school materials and get access to more information on the lives of their children.
The bills are part of a string of legislation introduced this year by Republicans who say it increases parental rights. Democrats in both chambers opposed the bills, which passed out of the House last month and out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday on party lines.
The conservative Center for Arizona Policy supports the bills while education groups such as Save Our Schools Arizona, the Arizona School Board Assocation and the Arizona Education Association oppose them.
House Bill 2161, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, would ban state entities, including schools, from “interfer(ing) with or usurp(ing)” parental rights. Critical Democrats said the bill is too broad and could penalize well-intentioned teachers, coaches and librarians from making innocuous comments and suggestions such as encouraging children to try out for a sports team or apply to a college.
Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, a teacher, said she believes the bill will scare educators away from voicing these comments to their students for fear of violating the law if a parent is upset with those ideas.
Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod told Marsh that a lawsuit over those examples would be thrown out by any court as frivolous.
The committee added an amendment to the legislation striking the requirement educators to report to parents anything having to do with a student’s “emotional or mental” health, which left Republicans, including Herrod, saying the bill was too watered down with amendments, and Democrats still saying the bill was too broad.
The committee also passed House Bill 2495 from Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, banning public schools from showing students “sexually explicit material.”
The bill’s original version banned acts of “homosexuality,” but an amendment struck the word and added language to ensure schools can still teach “classical” or “early American” literature that might have explicit content. It does not, however, define “classical” or “early American.” Marsh questioned whether books like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple or The Kite Runner would be banned from classrooms by the bill.
Democrats were skeptical that the bill is necessary. Marsh said she’s never seen explicit materials like the ones the bill addressed being given to students.
Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said that just because someone doesn’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.
“Every year we have another school district or another case where a family member has brought material down to us saying somebody is using these materials,” Pace said after voting in favor of the bill.