Arizona bill that aims to expand parental rights at schools heading to Governor Doug Ducey

Arizona State Capitol

Legislation that greatly expands the rights of parents to know anything their children tell a teacher or school counselor and allows them to sue if information is withheld is headed to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.

The parental rights bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve Kaiser was approved along party lines by the House on Monday. Kaiser represents the state's 15th Legislative District, which covers portions of North Phoenix.

Changes made to the bill in the Senate, which passed the bill with no Democratic backing last week, required a second House vote.

Kaiser had previously stripped the measure of major penalty provisions for teachers to get enough votes for its initial House passage. The broad expansion of the state’s parents’ bill of rights no longer will lead to fines, suspensions or dismissal for teachers or other school employees, but it does allow lawsuits against any school district or official for violations and requires them to prove they did not interfere with the parent’s rights.

The House also gave final approval to a bill that expands the ability of parents to review books in school libraries and requires a 60-day review period for titles being considered for addition by librarians. Republicans say some schools are allowing books that contain inappropriate content on sex or sexual orientations in their collections.

Democrats said both bills are overreactions that target teachers and that the parent’s rights bill will put children at risk.

Democratic Sen. Christine Marsh of Phoenix, a longtime high school teacher, said Kaiser’s bill will keep children from confiding in trusted adults.

"Once they realize that anything they tell a counselor or a teacher is going to go to their parents, some of them, potentially a lot of them, will just simply stop talking," Marsh said during a recent Senate debate. "They are no longer going to have that trusted adult to confide in."

Republican Rep. Walt Blackman said the measure was all about having parents have the last say.

"Parents’ rights," Blackman said. "Parents’ rights to know what’s going on with their children in school. Not teachers’ rights."

He said parents have the right to know "everything single thing that’s being said, taught, looked at, what have you, with their kids."

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

It requires schools to allow access to all educational records and to a counselor’s notes.

Kaiser said that while parents have been able to talk to teachers and principals, they have little recourse if they believed their children were being led astray.

"It gives actual teeth to parents who want to see a difference in their school," Kaiser said.

During committee testimony on the library book review bill, vastly competing views of its potential ramifications were expressed.

"This bill right here opens the door to book banning," said Jeanne Casteen, executive director of the Secular Coalition for Arizona, which lobbies for fact-based education and health policies.

But some parents said their children were being exposed to topics such as sexual orientation and more access to the books their children can see is needed.

"Transparency does not equal book banning," Chandler Parent Charlotte Golla told the House education committee. "We’re teaching these kids how to read, but yet we’re showing them sexual content without parents knowledge."

Democratic Rep. Judy Schwiebert, a former school librarian, said during a February House debate that the new access isn’t needed.

"Districts already have selection policies that librarians use, and they also have de-selection policies," Schwiebert said. "So if a parent objects to a book under consideration an independent review panel takes a look at that and reconsiders that book."

A third measure that would require teachers to post all learning materials online failed in the House last week. But as with all measures, it could be revived as long as the Legislature is in session.

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