A bill to allow parents to sue Arizona teachers for “usurping the fundamental right” of a parent in raising their children won approval from state Senate Republicans on Monday and is one vote away from Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.
Supporters of the bill said it was necessary to subject teachers to lawsuits in order to bring transparency to schools, which they said have been asking “inappropriate questions” of students. The main impetus for the legislation were student surveys sent out by schools — often aimed at identifying students struggling with mental health during the pandemic — that made headlines in a number of states and locally.
House Bill 2161 by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, began its legislative life as a more controversial bill that would have forced teachers to tell parents everything a student tells them — including outing them if a student confides in a teacher that they are LGBTQ.
The bill was eventually amended to remove that language. Kaiser insisted that the bill was never meant as “an attack” on the LGBTQ community, even though it specifically said teachers would have to disclose information about a student’s “purported gender identity” or a request to transition to a gender other than the “student’s biological sex.” It was also drafted by two historically anti-LGBTQ groups.
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 Parents’ Bill of Rights in Arizona law, gives parents the rights to all written or electronic records from a school about their child — including a students counseling records — and requires schools to notify parents before a survey is conducted of students, among other changes.
“I am a hard ‘no’ on this bill,” Sen. Christine Marsh, a Phoenix Democrat and the 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year, said when explaining her vote on the floor Monday afternoon. She added that the vague wording of “usurping the fundamental right” in the bill will likely lead to many parents filing lawsuits.
“Anything could potentially qualify for it so we might have a whole bunch of teachers going to court for this,” she said.
Those concerns were also echoed by her Democratic colleagues during committee hearings on the bill who feared that if passed, the bill could see librarians getting in trouble for recommending books that conflict with a parent’s worldview.
Kaiser, the bill’s sponsor, said in committee that the aim is to have parents involved with the child in that process.
The bill passed 16-12. Because it was amended in the Senate, it returns to the House of Representatives for a final vote, after which it would go to Ducey for final action.