‘Unbiased Teaching Act’ advances in the Arizona Legislature

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Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 11:39 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -A bill targeting controversial topics in the classroom is causing quite the controversy of its own. The proposed legislation would restrict what Arizona educators can talk about at school. Proponents claim it cracks down propaganda by punishing those who give one-sided lessons. However, critics believe it violates First Amendment rights and say it sends the wrong message to teachers.

SB 1532 started out as transportation bill that has since turned into the “Unbiased Teaching Act.” Republican state Rep. Michelle Udall introduced the amendment last Wednesday.

“We don’t want teachers teaching from a biased perspective,” said Udall, who is also a mathematics teacher.

The law would prohibit teachers from discussing divisive issues without giving equal weight to opposing perspectives. Udall says an exception would be made for “accurate portrayals” of historical events.

“We are not saying that you need to teach slavery from two perspectives or the Holocaust,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that was clear.”

Udall says the goal is to eliminate racist, sexist and politicized education.

“We don’t want children taught that they are responsible for something they didn’t do,” she said. “We don’t want them feeling guilty and anxious and upset because of something that someone of their race did in the past or even did in the present in another state.”

Margaret Chaney says the bill gives the impression teachers can’t be trusted.

“I find the bill to just be another censorship effort,” Chaney said.

Chaney is the president of the Tucson Education Association (TEA). She’s also a former world history, American history, women’s studies and ethnic studies teacher.

“Who decides what’s controversial?” she asked. “I agree, we shouldn’t be brainwashing kids. We need to teach children how to use their brains. If you bring this forth and say, ‘Nope, you can’t teach the 1619 Project or things similar to it; those crazy liberal ideas,’ but you can teach conservative ideas, then you still have that biased.”

“We view this as a sort of large overreach by the Legislature into what is the responsibility of the people who are elected to make these decisions,” said Chris Kotterman, who is with the Arizona School Boards Association.

Kotterman says districts are already struggling to stay staffed. He worries this legislation would make recruitment even harder.

“We have 2,000 positions almost that were vacant at the beginning of this year,” he said.

Chaney and Kotterman say there are already a systems in place for those who are uncomfortable with the way a lesson is being taught. They encourage parents to talk to their child’s teacher, principal, superintendent and governing board members.

Similar bills have been introduced in states like Idaho, Arkansas and Texas. However, Arizona is the only state to propose financial repercussions. The fine of $5,000 dollars is about 10% of Arizona’s average teaching salary.

“I understand the concern with it being that high,” said Udall. “That’s a maximum and it actually aligns with the same maximum fee if teachers are using the classroom to influence a political election. If a teacher is using their position to push their biased, there needs to be real consequences for that.”

The bill passed the House of Representative and is now moving through the State Senate.

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