instruction disclosure bill

From left to right: Libby Hart-Wells, Jann-Michael Greenburg and Julie Cieniawski.

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board members are unhappy about a Senate-passed bill that spells out what schools and teachers must publicly disclose in classroom lessons and related materials, calling it detrimental to teachers and students and “a solution looking for a problem.”

As approved last week on a 16-13 party-line margin, SB 1211 requires districts and charters to list on their website all instructional materials and activities – including textbooks and digital materials, online applications, school assembly topics and guest lectures.

SB 1211 also requires them to provide information on their websites the procedures for parents to access in advance to review current learning materials and activities. The materials would have to be organized, at a minimum, by subject, grade and teacher as well as be displayed in electronic formats that can be searched or sorted.

“SB 1211 is a solution looking for a problem, and, worse, adds a destructive litigious component to learning,” said SUSD Governing Board Vice President Dr. Libby Hart-Wells. “Arizonans continue to signal public education investment is a top priority. It’s unclear how over-regulation achieves that goal. I sincerely hope this legislative session recalibrates to supporting and showing respect for students rather than hurting teachers.”

SUSD Governing Board President Julie Cieniawski said the Legislature should focus on better funding public schools in order “to make improvements and move Arizona from worst funding nationally, high average class sizes, worst teacher pay, and highest counselor-student ratios nationally.”

“I trust our well-educated, certified teachers to make sound instructional decisions for our children,” Cieniawski said. “Undermining our professionals only exacerbates the teaching retention issue we are currently battling. Parents should be concerned about the reality of this scenario.

“We are at a point that if our students and teachers aren’t treated with more dignity, we won’t be able to lower class sizes or focus on real student achievement because the ‘well’ of highly qualified teachers is going to run empty. 

Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg called the new law detrimental to teachers and students.

“Transparency with our community is critical for building and maintaining trust, which is why SUSD follows all state laws for the adoption of textbooks and supplemental materials,” Greenburg said. “This includes publishing an approved list of materials and allowing families to choose alternative class assignments.

“However, giving teachers the flexibility to incorporate current events and new information in real time is critical to engaging students in the world around them and developing critical thinkers,” he asserted. “Any legislation that prevents our staff from being able to create lesson plans with up-to-date information is a serious detriment to our students and the education profession.”

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said SB 1211 will not be a hardship on teachers as they need post only the titles and information within seven days.

All Democrats on the Senate floor voted against the measure.

"I am 100% in favor of transparency and parental involvement," said Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix.

"I know first-hand that open communication between parents and teachers allows for better instruction and adaptability for the students," she said. "But there are other ways to facilitate that without this particular bill which will have ... unintended consequences on both students and on teachers."

Marsh said the additional requirements will create more work for teachers that ultimately will result in less time with their students.

"They’re going to be busy loading thousands of points of data online every week or two," she said.

But Boyer called SB 1211 "one of the most important, if not the most important, bill of the session."

"It’s painless," said Boyer, who indicated he is returning to full-time teaching next year.

"As teachers, we’re always submitting lesson plans every single week," Boyer said. "It’s so simple teachers can just upload to a Google doc or a Word doc, just the titles of whatever it is."

"Some of you know that parents, not all of them, but some of them do distrust their school districts," Boyer said. "This bill helps to alleviate that."

He also said the requirement will help teachers, enabling them to see what others in the field are doing.

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, questioned whether what’s in the bill is workable, particularly at the elementary level.

For example, he said his son is in the third grade, where he can choose what to read from perhaps a thousand books.

"Which one of those thousand books is required reading?" Pace asked, and has to be listed online. Still, Pace voted for the measure, saying he hopes there are changes when the measure is considered by the House where it now goes.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, also voted with all the Republicans to approve the measure. But she questioned whether this was little more than window dressing – "to look like we are doing something" – to deal with a deeper problem.

"Putting up loads and loads and loads of information isn’t really going to solve the problem that we have in K-12," Ugenti-Rita said.

"We have a leadership problem in K-12," she continued. "We have a problem with teacher unions. We have a problem with board members who sit on school boards who are elected in non-partisan races and nobody knows who they are."

Ugenti-Rita proposed legislation this session to require board candidates to list their political affiliations, only to have it defeated.

"This will leave parents with the impression that something is done when nothing is done," she complained. Instead, Ugenti-Rita said, SB 1211 will "add a lot of busy work for teachers."

The measure outlines enforcement procedures, including requiring a response from the school principal to a complaint within 15 days and then, if the parent is not satisfied, gives the governing board another 25 days. It also spells out that parents can pursue legal action, as can the state school superintendent, the auditor general, the attorney general or the county attorney.

The measure spells out that materials on certain subjects actually have to be put on display at least 72 hours before first use. These include issues of discrimination and diversity and bias based on race, ethnicity, sex or gender.

Also covered by this 72-hour rule is "action-oriented civics," defined as assignments or projects that require students to contact elected officials or other outside entities, whether to advocate for a political or social cause or to participate in political or social demonstrations.

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