Bill that would’ve forced Arizona teachers to out students modified 

Democrats still worry about chilling effect on teachers

By: - March 16, 2022 2:39 pm
School hallway with lockers and students in the distance.

Photo via Getty Images

A GOP bill that would have forced teachers to out LGBTQ students was amended in the Senate Education Committee Tuesday to remove that language, but still faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

“I want to make it loud and clear this was no way an attack on (the LGBTQ) community,” Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, sponsor of House Bill 2161, told the committee.

The bill in its current form prohibits a school, political subdivision or government from “usurping the fundamental right” of a parent in raising their children, allows a parent to bring a civil suit against any government entity or official that violates the Parent’s Bill of Rights, gives parents the rights to all written or electronic records from a school including a students counseling records, and requires schools to notify parents before a survey is conducted of students, among other changes.

Supporters of the bill said it was necessary to punish teachers in order to bring transparency to schools, which they said have been asking “inappropriate questions.” The main aim of the legislation is to reign in surveys sent out by schools that have made headlines in a number of states and locally.

The language that was removed from the bill would have made it illegal for a government employee to withhold information that is “relevant to the physical, emotional or mental health of the parent’s child,” and specifically prevents teachers from withholding information about a student’s “purported gender identity” or a request to transition to a gender other than the “student’s biological sex.”

The bill would have allowed parents to sue school districts if teachers didn’t comply.

Members of LGBTQ community criticized the bill, one of several in the legislature this year that they view as an attack on the community. Kaiser admitted to working on the bill with anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups, ​​chief among them the Center for Arizona Policy, a Christian lobbying organization that routinely advocates for social conservative legislation at the Capitol.

CAP holds sway with most Republican lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey, and is widely considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups at the state Capitol.

Another stakeholder that Kaiser consulted is Family Watch International, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

“This has got the potential for a little bit of chaos,” Sen. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, said of the bill. “(Teachers) have been hammered so they are going to err on the side of extreme caution on anything.”

For Stahl Hamilton, her concerns lay with another portion of the bill which states that the state or a political subdivision of the state shall not “interfere with or usurp the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children.”

Stahl Hamilton and some of her Democratic colleagues worried that the language of “usurp the fundamental right” was too vague and could affect not just teachers but other parts of the education process and create larger issues.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said she was concerned that a librarian who may suggest a book with which a parent may later disagree could be sued by a parent under the language of the bill.

“If that librarian is offering that book to a child … we would want the parents to be involved with that child,” Kaiser said in response, saying that the bill’s intent is to have parents informed.

Cathi Herrod, the president of CAP, during her testimony to the committee said that some of the examples given by Democratic lawmakers could likely be thrown out as “frivolous” and that the bill is needed in order to address “invasive” surveys.

The bill cleared committee along party lines and will head to the full Senate. It has already passed out of the House, also along party lines.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.