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.”

Patriot Movement agrees to end harassment of churches

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Members of one of the “Patriot” movements have agreed to stop harassing migrants and the volunteers at churches and non-profit organizations that are trying to provide some services.

But the lawsuit remains against others.

Under the terms of a consent decree, four individuals in the AZ Patriots have agreed to stay off the property of several Phoenix area churches and will not block access to the facilities.

The deal, approved Friday by U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi also specifically says the defendants who settled have agreed not to abuse, grab, touch, push or shove anyone entering or leaving the properties or direct others to do the same. And they will not use bullhorns, megaphones and amplifiers.

The defendants also have promised not to photograph or film anyone while standing within 50 feet of the churches.

And potentially most significant, they said they will not state or imply that any of the churches or the people who work with them are involved in human trafficking, sex trafficking or harboring fugitives. They also agreed to scrub their social media accounts to remove statements already posted.

Attorney Larry Wulkan said this isn’t an attempt to silence those who object to the efforts by members of the Alliance of Christian Leaders of the East Valley along with several churches and pastors who have been helping migrants.

“They can report the truth,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“But what they can’t do is unfairly taint our clients in a false light by suggesting that they’re human trafficking or sex trafficking or harboring fugitives, all of which is defamatory and false,” Wulkan said. “It’s a narrative that they have pushed in order to try to garner support from like-minded people.”

The lawsuit stems from the practice of Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropping off migrants who crossed the border illegally at Phoenix area churches and congregations. That has been particularly true of families as there are restrictions on how long ICE can hold minors in custody.

These churches and their pastors and volunteers, in turn, have offered help, often housing them for a night or two until they could board a bus to meet relatives or sponsors elsewhere.

According to the lawsuit, the members of both the Patriot Movement AZ and AZ Patriots, a smaller breakaway group, sought to “intimidate” the churches and their leaders and volunteers “to stop them from assisting the immigrants,” trespassing on church property and yelling at the people who were working at the churches. They also accused the groups helping the immigrants of criminal conduct and of profiting financially.

All that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the plaintiffs, amounted to civil rights violations, defamation, trespass and invasion of privacy.

Wulkan said the settlement with AZ Patriots is an important step.

“We’re hopeful that AZ Patriots and Jennifer Harrison (the group’s leader) will abide by the court order that prevents them from harassing, intimidating and trespassing on our clients’ properties,” he said.

Calls to the attorney for AZ Patriots and its members were not immediately returned.

The consent decree does not cover the other defendants, particularly Patriot Movement AZ. Wulkan said the problem so far is getting them into court.

He said that group members have so far avoided being served, a necessary first step in the litigation.  As a result, Wulkan said he is asking the court for permission to have them “served” through publication of a summons in the newspaper.

“We are hopeful that when Lesa Antone and Patriot Movement AZ come out of hiding and finally appears in court that we can have an injunction entered against them to ensure that their harassing and intimidating our clients stops,” he said. Antone is listed in the lawsuit as one of the founders of Patriot Movement AZ in 2017 along with Russel Jaffe.

In messages through Facebook, Patriot Movement AZ declined to comment about either the decision of the other group to settle and  its own decision not to follow suit. But the unidentified spokesperson who controls the Facebook page did want to comment on Wulkan’s comment that the organization and its members are purposely avoiding being served with the lawsuit.

“Nobody is avoiding service and nobody is in hiding,” the spokesperson said. “All unserved defendants are living their normal lives waiting to be served.”

When the lawsuit was filed, Angel Campos, the pastor of Inglesia Monte Vista told reporters there has been an emotional toll from confrontations with those protesting the churches and the volunteers.

“It’s terrifying,” he said. “It’s like terrorism and absolutely not acceptable.”

And Campos said that those offering to help should not be subject to such attacks.

“We are not breaking any laws,” he said. “We do this because of our faith.”


Patriot Movement members sue Katie Hobbs over Ducey tweet

Members of the Patriot Movement AZ are suing Secretary of State candidate Katie Hobbs over a six-month-old tweet in which she criticized Gov. Doug Ducey for posing with the controversial activist group.

Four Patriot Movement members allege Hobbs intentionally sought to politically cripple Ducey and smear their group when she publicly shamed the governor for posing with the far-right activists at an April event in Mohave County.

A Democrat, Hobbs is running for secretary of state against Republican Steve Gaynor, whom the Patriot Movement recently endorsed.

Ducey was widely criticized for taking a photo with the Patriot Movement members. At the time, the governor’s staffers dismissed the photo, saying Ducey did not know who the group was.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

And recently, Gaynor faced backlash for posing for a photo with a male member of the Patriot Movement. A representative for Gaynor’s campaign said that Gaynor did not know who the man was when the picture was taken and he did not notice the man’s T-shirt, which touted the Patriot Movement.

Hobbs tweeted a photo on April 29 of the governor posing with members of the Patriot Movement with the caption, “Governor Ducey I hope you realize this woman is flashing a white supremacist sign. These are part of the group that shows up at the Capitol w/ AR-15’s and harass elementary school children and democratic staff, calling them illegals. You must denounce.”

Lesa Antone, the group’s founder and the woman who made the hand sign in the photo, is one of the four people who brought the libel and defamation lawsuit against Hobbs.The symbol has been called a sign of white supremacy, but that claim has largely been debunked.

The lawsuit alleges Hobbs tagged an Arizona Republic reporter in her tweet, which the activists blame for the onslaught of print and broadcast media coverage of the photo.

Hobbs’ campaign declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, those in the photograph, claim they have faced harassment, death threats, loss of employment, loss of wages, emotional stress and more due to media coverage of the photo.

In court documents, Antone said she and her family faced death threats and had to install a security system because strangers would knock on her door and call her a white supremacist.

The activists also make claims in the lawsuit saying that they have not carried AR-15 guns to the Capitol, nor have they harassed elementary school children or called Democratic staffers at the Capitol “illegal.”

On Jan. 25, the group of President Donald Trump supporters singled out dark-skinned lawmakers, legislative staffers and children at the Capitol as they protested congressional efforts to pass immigration reform, according to staffers of the Arizona Legislature and two Democratic legislators.

They called dark-skinned people “illegal” and told them to “go home,” according to several witnesses.

At the time, members of the group — including two women who filed the lawsuit against Hobbs — vehemently denied the accusations, saying they were protesting activists from Living United for Change in Arizona.

Videos of the protest posted on YouTube and other social media outlets showed protesters calling various people at the Capitol that day “illegal,” with one protestor yelling at a young man and a LUCHA member to “get legal or get out.”

Members of the group have also carried high-powered rifles around the Capitol on numerous occasions, including during the Red for Ed protests in the spring.

The activists, who filed the lawsuit without the help of an attorney, are seeking $40,000 in damages.

A local First Amendment attorney said the plaintiffs have a high bar to clear to prove libel.

Attorney David Bodney, who hadn’t read the lawsuit and spoke broadly about the standards for libel, said that there’s a chance the Patriot Movement plaintiffs could be considered “limited purpose” public figures for their role in protests at the Arizona Capitol.

If so, they would have to prove actual malice on Hobbs’ part, with clear and convincing evidence, he said. And even if Hobbs’ tweet wasn’t 100 percent true, “substantial truth” would be a valid defense, Bodney said.

While Harrison, Antone and their fellow plaintiffs filed the case without representation, Bodney noted such lawsuits are becoming far more common.

“We’re seeing more and more libel lawsuits brought by pro se or pro per plaintiffs, and they can inflict high costs on individuals, as well as news organizations, to secure dismissal of claims,” he said.

The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 12, comes mere weeks before the Nov. 6 election in which voters will select their next secretary of state.

Read the full complaint below.

CORRECTION: A previous version incorrectly stated monetary damages sought by the plaintiffs.

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