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Arizona House Republicans Pass Bill That Would Ban 'Controversial' Topics In Schools

Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2021 - 7:14pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 11, 2021 - 7:46am
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The Arizona House of Representatives has passed a bill along party lines that proponents say would bar racist, sexist and politicized instruction in schools. 

Under the newly amended bill dubbed the Unbiased Teaching Act, school districts, charter schools and state agencies would be prohibited from discussing controversial issues in schools. Or if these discussions take place, teachers are required to give both sides equal weight. Violations would result in $5,000 fines. 

The president of the Arizona Education Association is concerned about the legislation. Joe Thomas says the Legislature should not be the deciding body on what content is controversial. 

“That works best at the town and city level. We should not have a central group of politicians who have never taught a day in their lives deciding how we’re going to educate our students," Thomas said. 

The bill is similar to others being proposed nationwide as part of an effort to prohibit critical race theory teachings in schools.

“We cannot allow children in our public schools to be taught that their skin color or ethnicity or sex somehow determines their character or actions. No forms of racism should be allowed to enter our classrooms," said Rep. Michelle Udall who proposed the amendment. "Biased teaching needs to be stopped."

But this type of instruction isn't happening in Arizona schools, said Chris Kotterman with the Arizona School Boards Association which opposes the bill. 

“The foundational argument is that there is some movement that teaches students, white students specifically, that they need to feel bad about the past sins of the country. That’s trash. There's no one with any creditability that's teaching that to students," Kotterman said. 

House Democrats voted against the bill. They argue it's unconstitutional and reminiscent of a 2010 law banning Mexican-American studies that later was struck down in court. 

“It took us seven years for us to get validation from the federal court that Arizona was headed in the wrong direction and yet here we are again," said Rep. Andres Cano.  

The bill states that accurate portrayals of historic events won’t be considered controversial. 

“Issues related to race and sex are appropriate for discussion in an educational environment, and the Unbiased Teaching Act does nothing to prevent that,” added Udall. “In fact, learning about terrible abuses that have occurred in the name of racism or sexism is important if framed in proper context, but no student should ever be taught that a person’s race, ethnicity or sex determines his or her character, bias, treatment, or worth.”

Kotterman thinks the bill's language is too vague and questions who will deem what is accurate and what isn’t. 

"So we just create an endless loop debate about what it is that's appropriate or accurate to teach to students," he said. "We basically end up litigating every single thing that someone finds to be controversial."

In addition, the bill also targets efforts that impede or prevent a public schools from operating, such as sick-outs that have happened throughout the pandemic to protest reopening plans or policies that some teachers considered unsafe.  

The bill is now headed to the Senate.

KJZZ's Jill Ryan contributed to this report.

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