On Monday, Republicans in the Arizona Senate passed House Bill 2161, which would allow parents to sue educators who “usurp” their parental rights to “direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children.”
The bill joins a slew of other right-wing education bills passed in states across the country, where conservative lawmakers are crusading against lesson plans about system racism and inequality, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Arizona Mirror reported:
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.
Just to clarify: there’s no indication whatsoever that Arizona parents’ right to raise their children has been impeded. A “Parents’ Bill of Rights” is already on the books in Arizona — and it already gives parents the right to “review and access all records” relating to their child.
HB 2161 reportedly affirms parents’ right to counseling records, but the biggest change coming from the new bill is its language giving parents the right to sue teachers for impeding the “upbringing, education, health care and mental health” of their kids.
As critics have noted, conservatives have already shown they think lesson plans about sordid points in American history are divisive and dangerous. If enacted, HB 2161 could potentially open the floodgates to lawsuits against any educator who teaches a subject a parent doesn’t like: whether it’s a lesson about the civil rights movement, or the labor movement, or the movement for women's suffrage.
Educators who defy parents’ absurd educational demands could face life-altering litigation — all in the name of keeping conservative kids ignorant.
That kind of repression wouldn’t even be new in Arizona.
In 2010, Arizona Republicans passed a law that banned ethnic studies courses in the state, alleging these courses “promote resentment” and “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.” That law was deemed unconstitutional in 2017, but only after then-Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and other state officials waged a yearslong war against educators who ran afoul of his preference for whitewashed lesson plans.
I also know about Arizona’s culture of educational repression from personal experience.
In 2009, conservative parents pressured the public charter school I attended in Phoenix not to air an address from former President Barack Obama over claims the speech — which encouraged students to stay in school — amounted to indoctrination. This small-yet-vocal group of white conservatives created self-made permission slips saying their children were not to listen to Obama speak, and the school relented by refusing to play the speech in many classes.
The new law being passed in Arizona would raise the stakes on similar conflicts. Whereas my former school merely suffered the lifelong embarrassment of cowing to a right-wing horde, educators who defy parents’ absurd educational demands could face life-altering litigation if HB 2161 is enacted — all in the name of keeping conservative kids ignorant.