Board of Ed scraps proposal on sex education rules

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Luke Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, listen Monday to a parade of parents object to proposed changes in sex education rules. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Luke Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, listen Monday to a parade of parents object to proposed changes in sex education rules. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Facing a barrage of parental criticism, the state Board of Education decided Monday to scrap a proposal to remove certain language from the rules on sex education.

Several members of the appointed board said they are unwilling to consider the kind of changes being proposed, not just by gay rights advocates on one side but a coalition of parents on the other who want even more restrictions on what can be taught. Armando Ruiz said that is the purview of elected state lawmakers.

“We’re not the Legislature,” he said.

Monday’s decision is most immediately a defeat for Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, and allies on the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which sought to remove verbiage that now bans the teaching of “abnormal, deviant or unusual sexual acts and practices.” Instead, that proposal sought to spell out that sex education instruction must be “medically and scientifically accurate” and that courses provide “medically accurate instruction” on methods to prevent the transmission of disease.

That provoked a firestorm of protest, with more than four dozen foes showing up to tell the board to back off. It also raised questions from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

“Who decides what’s medically accurate?” she asked the board, suggesting that scientific studies often reach the result desired by the organization that funded the research.

But board members also chose not to consider vastly different proposals by some parents for what they would change in the rules. Suggestions ranged from requiring that abstinence be the only thing taught in sex education to an outright prohibition on mentioning masturbation, oral or anal sex.

During the approximately four hours of testimony several parents took swipes at state schools chief Kathy Hoffman, who took office in January, for even putting the Quezada proposal on the agenda.

“You’re injecting your political beliefs,” said Scott Weinberg who said he has two children in the Kyrene Elementary School District.

“I understand that you won that election,” he said. “But that doesn’t give you the right to change the curriculum for all of our children.”

Lesa Antone was more direct, focusing on the state’s low rankings nationally in scores on reading, writing and math.

“Why don’t you spend more time focusing on that and less time trying to sexualize little innocent babies, because that’s what they are,” she said.

“And you want to put them in makeup and make them drag queens and make them sexualized individuals,” Antone continued. “Shame on you!”

Hoffman insisted that she was not trying to push a specific agenda. Instead, she told those in the audience that she was simply putting forward the suggestions from Quezada for the board to consider.

“I thought this was worthy of discussion,” she said. “I would give the same respect to any senator.”

But former schools chief Diane Douglas, defeated in last year’s Republican primary, accused Hoffman of giving “priority status to your most favorite organization over every other concerned parent that’s sitting in this room today.” Douglas did not publicly identify the organization.

Animosity to Hoffman, however, predates Monday’s proposed rule change.

She used her first State of Education speech to call on lawmakers to repeal a law that prohibits any courses on AIDS and HIV from portraying homosexuality “as a positive alternative lifestyle.” Hoffman, a Democrat, told members of the House Education Committee at the time that the verbiage “contributes to an unsafe school environment” and leads to discrimination and bullying.

Hoffman got her wish — but only after gay rights groups filed a federal court lawsuit and Attorney General Mark Brnovich declined to defend the law.

And the board last month separately repealed an existing rule that had required sex ed classes to “promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage,” a provision also challenged in the federal court lawsuit and demanded by plaintiffs to drop their lawsuit.

Hoffman, in defending herself Monday, also said that sex ed classes operate on an “opt-in” basis, with parents having to give consent.

“That is not changing,” she said. “It’s always the parents’ choice of whether or not their child participates.”

Michael Clark, attorney for the Center for Arizona Policy, separately objected to another proposed change which would have allowed – but not required – schools to have co-ed sex ed classes. Madeline Adelman, speaking for GLSEN, said those choices should be left to local school boards.

The board could get some direction from the Republican-controlled Legislature this coming year on what changes, if any, to make.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, vowed to propose a law that absolutely forbids sex education of any type before the fifth grade; existing law allows but does not require schools to provide instruction on AIDS and HIV from kindergarten through Grade 12.

And Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, made it clear she’s not particularly pleased with what is being taught at all grade levels.

“Schools should never be in competition with what parents are trying to teach at home and how they are directing their children,” she said. Allen also took a broader swipe at public education, saying it is moving away from instruction and instead to “social engineering” of children.

There were other political overtones in the hearing,

Ashley Davis, who said she was a member of the Patriot Movement, complained that 75 percent of teachers in the nation “openly identify with many leftist and Marxist values that are indoctrinating the youth of America with spite for our flag, disgust for our history, hatred for our values but, most of all, violent rhetoric towards our awesome president Donald J. Trump.”

Phoenix: Gay discrimination case about commerce, not 1st Amendment

Brush and Nib Studio owners from left are Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka (Facebook)
Brush and Nib Studio owners from left are Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka (Facebook)

The city of Phoenix is fighting back against a bid by a Christian law firm to get the state’s high court to conclude that businesses have a right to refuse to provide certain services to gays.

In new legal filings Sept. 7, attorney Eric Fraser said there is no dispute about the heart of the case.

“If a same-sex couple asks Brush & Nib (Studio) for custom wedding products, Brush & Nib will refuse service, regardless of the wording or design the couple wants,” he told the Arizona Supreme Court. And the owners of the firm would make a plain-vanilla wedding invitation listing “Pat and Pat” if it means “Patrick and Patricia” but refuse to make an identical one for “Patrick and Patrick.”

“That’s why this case is about commerce, not speech, art, or religious beliefs,” he wrote. “Under settled law, the government does not infringe the freedom of speech or religion by prohibiting public accommodations from refusing service based on a customer’s race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.”

Put simply, Fraser said, if a business is willing to do wedding invitations, place cards and similar material for heterosexual couples, it cannot refuse to do the same thing for another couple simply because both are the same sex.

What the high court decides has implications beyond the Phoenix anti-discrimination ordinance.

It also would determine whether other communities with similar laws like Tucson, Flagstaff and Tempe, can enforce them. And it will either clear the way or block it for other cities, towns and counties to enact similar rules.

The case involves Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of the studio, who say they are “devout Christians” who believe that the only legitimate marriage is between one man and one woman.

As a result, they do not want to be forced to prepare custom wedding invitations and other materials for same-sex couples, arguing that doing so would force them to espouse beliefs that are contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs. And they want the ability to post a sign to that effect.

Attorney Samuel Green of Alliance Defending Freedom said the pair would sell their pre-made artworks to anyone, including gays. The issue, he said, revolves around someone asking them to create artwork to celebrate something that violates their religious beliefs.

But Fraser, in the new filings on behalf of the city, told the justices they should reject the claim this is about forcing the women to create unique “art.”

“Brush & Nib explicitly intends to refuse to make any custom wedding products for any same -sex couples,” he wrote. “That includes mundane items like place cards, which typically have only guests’ names and table numbers – not the names of the couple getting married or a hint of their sexual orientation.”

He even provided the justices actual examples of such place cards made by Brush & Nib for heterosexual couples while pointing out the owners “refuse to make literally the exact same products, with the same guest names, simply because of the sexual orientation of the couple getting married.”

And it is precisely that kind of discrimination based on a customer’s sexual orientation that is illegal – and that Fraser said the city is free to outlaw.

Fraser also said even “creative businesses” have no absolute constitutional right to refuse service.

“For example, photographers unquestionably have expressive rights worth protecting, but a high school prom photographer cannot refuse to take pictures of Mexican couples,” he wrote. “Nor can an atheist chef refuse to cook for Christians.”

And Fraser said it is no more legal for Brush & Nib to refuse service to same-sex couples than it is for them to refuse to provide wedding invitations to interracial couples.

He also told the justices they should ignore claims of “dire consequences” from upholding the law, saying they “exist only in Brush & Nib’s imagination, not in reality.”

For example, Fraser said the Phoenix ordinance could not force a gay graphics designer to create cover art for a book defending Mormon opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Public accommodation laws do not prevent companies from refusing business based on message, and Brush & Nib offers no evidence that Phoenix has ever enforced its law in that way,” Fraser said. And he said the studio can even refuse to make products that advocate for the rights of transgender individuals.

“But any message in ‘Ann / Table Three’ remains unchanged regardless of who is getting married,” he said.

Fraser also urged the justices not to accept the argument that the women are being forced to write celebratory phases, such as encourage people to “share in the joy of a marriage” when the studio’s owners do not share that belief. He said that phrase simply reflects the sentiments of the couple and their parents, “not their calligrapher.”

And it still leaves the fact that if the studio will willingly write out that phrase for the couple and their parents on some invitations “then it cannot refuse to scribe the same phrase merely because the couple happens to be Catholic, Asian or gay.”

“Nothing about wedding stationery suggests that the calligrapher endorses the couple or the marriage,” Fraser wrote.

“If Brush & Nib could refuse to make a plain-vanilla wedding invitation merely because it disagrees with the underlying marriage, then a sign maker who happily makes custom ‘Happy Birthday’ banners could likewise refuse to make one for a Christian child,” he said. “That’s not the law, nor should it be.”

No date has been set for the justices to consider the issue.