Arizona House gives initial approval to expanding parental rights in schools

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House gave initial approval on Tuesday to a Republican-backed bill that strengthens the rights of parents to know what is happening with their children in schools and allows them to seek sanctions against teachers who they believe have violated their parental rights.

Penalty provisions in the state’s sweeping expansion of the parent’s bill of rights could result in fines, suspensions, or the firing of teachers or other school employees. It also allows parents to sue if they are unhappy with the punishment or the way school districts have handled their complaint.

“Parents have always had the opportunity to talk to the teacher and talk to the principal and vent their frustration, but that’s it,” said Republican Rep. Steve Kaiser, the Phoenix lawmaker who sponsors the bill. law. “There is no other substantive remedy.”

He said his proposal puts in place specific avenues for parents to complain and provides penalties to ensure the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights is enforced. He argued that teachers and other educators are giving surveys to students and not telling parents and withholding medical and school records they should know.

“It gives real teeth to parents who want to see a difference in their school,” Kaiser said.

The proposal was strongly pushed back by Democrats, who called it an unnecessary expansion of pressure on public school teachers. They said parents already have ways to discuss their concerns with their teachers, administrators and school board members, but the possibility of fines and penalties makes parents and teachers adversaries rather than partners.

“I think this bill creates an environment that’s more combative than collaborative,” said Rep. Mitzi Epstein, a Democrat from Phoenix.

The bill requires teachers and school counselors to tell a student’s parents anything the child discloses in confidence. This includes anything related to the physical, emotional or mental health of the parent’s child.

It requires schools to allow access to all school records and a counsellor’s notes.

Kaiser said his legislation was needed to give parents better access to information about their children.

A provision that would have specifically required teachers or school counselors to tell a student’s parents about their sexual orientation or if they have questions about their gender identity has been removed. Democratic Rep. Cesar Chavez of Phoenix worked with Kaiser to get that provision changed.

Kaiser said he still believed this provision should be included and was disappointed to drop it, but said the bigger bill was more important.

Some Democrats pointed to parts of the bill that require parents to be told about all things mental health and said they’re worried teachers will still have to tell parents about their child’s sensitive issues on sexuality.

They also said Arizona is already struggling to recruit and retain enough teachers to ensure that all classrooms are staffed with permanent, qualified educators.

“I believe teachers are not an enemy,” said Rep. Judy Schwiebert, a Democrat from Phoenix. “I believe they are essential. And I believe that bills like this only drive more teachers out of the profession.

Kaiser’s proposal is one of many put forward by Republicans who worry that schools or their boards aren’t listening to parents. His bill now needs a formal House vote before it can pass the Senate.

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