Teachers who drop the F-bomb or otherwise use obscene, indecent or profane language in class would be suspended or fired under a proposal by state lawmakers.
Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, who sponsored the measure, said teachers need to be held accountable for their words and need to set a high standard for the students.
Klein drafted the legislation after hearing from a constituent, Floyd Brown, that in his daughter’s classroom in a public high school, the teacher encouraged the students to stand up and shout obscenities at each other.
“I think that you will find that this is a greater problem than you think,” Brown told the Senate Government Reform Committee Wednesday.
“We have a problem,” Brown said. “We try to have a civil society, we try to have civil discussion but profanity and abusive language is absolutely crippling our school. And this is just one small step to try to bring that under control.”
The measure, Senate Bill 1205, passed the Senate Government Reform Committee Wednesday on party line vote and will now go to a vote by the full Senate.
Under the legislation, the first time a teacher says something that would be bleeped on TV or radio, the school would be allowed to fire the teacher, and required to at least issue a warning. For a third offense, the teacher would be suspended one week without pay, and by the fifth offense, the teacher would be fired.
The language would be tied to what the Federal Communications Commission considers obscene, indecent or profane.
A local teacher, Moira Carney, told the committee that in 30 years of teaching, she has never heard that kind of language from teachers in a school setting. She said the bill assumes the problem is with teachers, which is not true.
“It’s disheartening to see the Arizona Senate introducing a second bill today chastising teachers for social and cultural problems,” she said. “I would challenge you to come up with other types of bills that would get to the root of the problem and I don’t think it’s coming from the teachers’ mouths, I think it’s coming from the students’ mouths.”
While both sides agreed that obscene language has no place in the classroom, Democrats said the law is murky and the issue should be handled at the school board level anyway.
Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said the bill was sloppily drafted, and the language could be construed to ban teaching literature with bad words in it.
“The FCC bill is so broad that I think it could extend to possibly books and literature,” Lujan said after the committee meeting.
Previous versions of the bill would have subjected colleges and universities to the rules and didn’t contain a provision specifying the rules only apply for teachers when they’re in the class.
The cursing-in-classrooms bill had the highest profile of several school-related measures heard in the Senate Government Reform Committee Wednesday, all of which passed on party lines and now head to the full Senate.
• SB 1202 would regulate political speech in the classroom and have harsh consequences for teachers seen as trying to indoctrinate students to one political ideology.
The bill says a teacher’s certificate shall be revoked if, in a classroom or extracurricular activity setting if: A teacher promotes any partisan doctrine or conducts any uni-partisan exercises; encourages, entices or otherwise indoctrinates pupils to promote or adopt the teacher's partisan or political viewpoints; or puts on public display a pupil's support for the teacher's political position in order to promote the teacher's position.
If a school ignores partisan speech, the Department of Education can withhold up to ten percent of the monthly apportionment of state aid.
Democrats worried the bill, like the FCC bill, is too sloppily drafted, and would get history and social studies teachers in trouble if they taught about political ideologies.
“(Partisan) is very broad word,” said Lujan. “Any history teacher, social studies teacher who asked their students to read books about any president of the United States or just about anything could be determined partisan… When you’re putting a teachers livelihood on the line I you’re really chilling their ability to educate their students.”
Gabrielle Saucedo Mercer, a Republican Mexican immigrant who is hoping to challenge Congressman Raul Grijalva in the upcoming election, told the committee that the measure is necessary, especially in Southern Arizona, to fight ideologues who pose as teachers to corrupt the minds of the young.
“We have to protect the children from indoctrination,” she said.
• SB 1203 would make teachers get approval from the school board for any supplemental books they intend to use in class, and put online a list of all the books used in the classroom.
Current law says teachers don’t need to get approval for supplemental books if a regular textbook is used as the main teaching book. The list of books online is also new. Supporters say it creates transparency in curriculum adoption.
• SB 1204 would allow parents whose children attend a public school with a grade of D or F to circulate a petition to close the school, convert the school to a charter school or fire the principal and bring in a new principal and staff to overhaul the school.
If at least one parent in more than 50 percent of the households signs the petition, the school district would take the action asked for in the petition.