Arizona: Teachers Can Be Sued For “Usurping” Parents Right Under Proposed Bill

The state Senate on Monday approved a measure allowing parents to sue instructors in Arizona for “usurping the fundamental right” of a parent to raise their children. The bill now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk for his signature.

Proponents of the legislation said that suing schools for asking kids “inappropriate questions” necessitated by exposing such institutions to litigation. Kids’ questionnaires, frequently targeted at identifying students who were having mental health issues during the epidemic and making headlines in many states and locally, were the primary driver for the law.

In the beginning, Rep. Steve Kaiser’s (R-Phoenix) House Bill 2161 was contentious because it would have mandated that teachers inform parents anything their students tell them, including exposing them if a kid confides in a teacher that they are LGBTQ.

That phrase was later removed from the law. In spite of the law’s explicit requirement that instructors divulge information regarding a student’s “purported gender identity” or a desire to transition into a gender different than the “student’s biological sex,” Kaiser stated that the measure was never intended as “an attack” on the LGBTQ community. In addition, it was developed by two anti-LGBTQ organizations.

When a parent’s fundamental right to raise their children is violated by a school, political subdivision, or government, the parent has the right to bring a civil suit against the government entity or official responsible for the violation. The bill in its current form gives parents access to all written or electronic records from a school about their child, including a student’s counseling records, and requires schools to notify the parent of any violations of the Parents’ Bill of Rights in Arizona law.

In a statement Monday afternoon on the floor, Sen. Christine Marsh, a Phoenix Democrat and a 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year, said she was a “hard no” to this measure. In addition, because of the bill’s ambiguous use of the phrase “usurping the fundamental right,” many parents are expected to file challenges against it.

“Anything could potentially qualify for it so we might have a whole bunch of teachers going to court for this,” she said.

A number of her Democratic colleagues expressed similar worries during committee hearings, fearing that if the measure was approved, librarians may face disciplinary action for suggesting reading material that conflicts with the beliefs of a parent.

The goal is to have parents participate with their children throughout this process, Kaiser said in testimony before a legislative committee.

The vote was 16-12 in favor. The House of Representatives will vote on it again, and then it will be forwarded to Ducey for final consideration.

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