Lawmakers in Arizona Look to Put Controls on Teachers’ Speech

COMMENTARY | In a story in Sunday’s Arizona Republic, Alia Beard Rau described efforts by lawmakers to pass a law that would limit teachers’ words in their classrooms. The story was reprinted in today’s USA Today. A group of legislators is trying to pass a law that would make teachers abide by FCC rules regarding profanity.

Really? This is such a problem in Arizona schools that elected officials in Phoenix need to use their valuable time shutting down all of the potty-mouthed teachers? Are students from Yuma to Flagstaff running home every day and telling mom and dad that their teachers are telling them to shut the, er, heck up?

The bill even spells out the penalties teachers would face if the law passes, which range from a one-week suspension for the first offense to firing the third time. Take heart, though, teachers in Tucson. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lori Klein (R-Anthem), says she will likely change the penalties so that a first offense will merit only a warning. Well, thanks, Ms. Klein; that’s big of you.

I teach at a public high school in Illinois. It drives me crazy when administrators use the transgressions of a couple of teachers to create rules for the entire staff. I imagine that’s common at many workplaces. Professionals want to be treated as such, and they want to be evaluated individually, not lumped in with the knucklehead in the next cubicle. For a state senate to tackle this issue takes my complaint and cranks it up several levels. Of course teachers should not be swearing in their classrooms. But is this something for which we need a law?

In Illinois, lawmakers in Springfield have passed a bunch of new laws over the last couple of years that schools have to figure out how to implement and pay for. Many of these laws were passed in early 2011 in an attempt to get some of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top money. Unfortunately, Illinois did not make the first two cuts in that cash grab (though it did get a consolation prize later), but lawmakers have yet to get around to repealing all of those new laws. I imagine they will get to that soon.

Recent changes in the Illinois school code have pushed me to become a passionate advocate for local rights of school districts. My single-school district operates on an annual budget of about $11 million, and about $2 million of that comes from the state of Illinois. Considering the local taxpayers are kicking in the other $9 million, I’d prefer to let elected school board members make the decisions for our school.

That goes for curriculum decisions as well as what words we allow our teachers to say.

Brad Boeker is in his 21st year of teaching public high school students in Illinois.

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