Teachers march in front of the Arizona Capitol building on March 15, 2023, to protest a new hotline launched by the Arizona Department of Education that encourages parents to file complaints about lesson plans in Arizona classrooms. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
Dozens of teachers took to the street on Wednesday afternoon to demand that the state superintendent’s newly established parental complaint hotline be dismantled.
Two banners were held up at the front of the crowd as it marched down 16th Avenue toward the Department of Education’s building, one expressing support for educators and the other asking for the constant attacks against teachers to cease.
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In recent years, suspicion of teachers among the Republican party has resulted in a spate of anti-teacher laws and rhetoric, and the newest move against them came last week, when Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne unveiled an “empower hotline” aimed at exposing leftist agendas in the classroom.
Chants of “Hey hey! Ho ho! The teacher hotline has got to go,” and “What do we want? Respect! When do we want it? Now!” resounded throughout the ranks of red-shirted teachers.
The hotline, according to the department’s website, is for Arizonans to report “inappropriate public school lessons that detract from teaching,” which includes material that focuses on race, gender ideology, social and emotional learning or sexual content. All of those have been a focus of the increasingly hostile culture war Republicans nationally, and in Arizona, have waged against schools.
Horne, a Republican, campaigned on the promise to eliminate critical race theory from Arizona classrooms — despite the fact that it’s a collegiate level course and there is no evidence it’s being taught in public schools — and has repeatedly sided with parents over educators.
Marisol Garcia, president of the state’s largest teacher’s union, the Arizona Education Association, which organized the march, said that Horne’s hotline is just another example of his adversarial relationship with teachers.
“Superintendent Horne is bringing politics into schools, ignoring educators’ due process rights and disrupting the relationship between parents and educators,” she said in an emailed statement.
The group delivered a letter to Horne requesting that he pull down the hotline and inviting him to visit a classroom to observe the work teachers do. Presented along with it was a children’s book about diverse people and the value in learning about others titled “Just Ask!”
In the letter, teachers exhorted Horne to remove the hotline, saying it operates on the premise that teachers are doing wrong and engendering suspicion of them, which contributes to the state’s worsening teacher shortage. As of January, 2,890 teaching positions remain unfilled across the state, and 1,873 teachers severed their own employment.
“The constant attacks, along with low wages and underfunded classrooms, are causing far too many of our colleagues to leave the profession and the state,” read the letter.
Kelley Fisher spoke to the crowd outside of the state Department of Education building and pointed out that teachers already have burdensome enough jobs without fielding disingenuous complaints on top of that. The kindergarten teacher said she spends hours each day developing lessons, and her job includes not just teaching her students but also ensuring they’ve eaten, feel safe and have enough necessities at home to be able to focus in the classroom. No one, she said, is including illicit material in their lessons.
“We are not teaching CRT, we are not showing pornography,” she said, to murmurs of agreement.
High school history teacher Dylan Wince said the ongoing culture war in the state Capitol and at the Department of Education is an attempt to divide communities and dissuade teachers like him from teaching the truth.
“Our students need to understand history, and you can’t do that by just covering the rainbows and butterflies,” he said. “The hotline just creates division and hostility, and a tension that makes teaching even harder. Teaching is hard and we need support, not being created as the enemy.”
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