In a recent post I published titled, “New Mexico UnEnchanted,” I described a great visit I recently made to Las Cruces to meet with students, parents, teachers, school board members, state leaders, and the like. In this post, I also described something I found shocking as I had never heard of this before. Under the “leadership” of Hanna Skandera — former Florida Deputy Commissioner of Education under former Governor Jeb Bush and head of the New Mexico Public Education Department — teachers throughout the state are being silenced.
New Mexico now requires teachers to sign a contractual document that they are not to “diminish the significance or importance of the tests” (see, for example, slide 7 here) or they could lose their jobs. Teachers are not to speak negatively about the tests or say anything negatively about these tests in their classrooms or in public; if they do they could be found in violation of their contracts. At my main presentation in New Mexico, a few teachers even approached me after “in secret” whispering their concerns in fear of being “found out.” Rumor also has it that Hanna Skandera has requested the names and license numbers of any teachers who have helped or encouraged students to protest the state’s “new” PARCC test(s), as well.
One New Mexico teacher asked whether “this is a quelling of free speech and professional communication?” I believe it most certainly is a Constitutional violation. I am also shocked to now find out that something quite similar is occurring in my state of Arizona.
Needless to say, neither of our states (or many states typically in the sunbelt for that matter) are short on bad ideas, but this is getting absolutely ridiculous, especially as this silencing of the educators seems to be yet another bad idea that is actually trending?
As per a recent article in our local paper – The Arizona Republic – Arizona “legislators want to gag school officials” in an amendment to Senate Bill 1172 that will prohibit “an employee of a school district or charter school, acting on the district’s or charter school’s behalf, from distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”
The charge is also that this is a retaliatory move by AZ legislators, in response to a series of recent protests in response to serious budget cuts several weeks ago. “Perhaps [this is] to keep [educators] from talking about how the legislature has shortchanged Arizona’s school kids by hundreds of millions of dollars since the recession, and how the legislature is still making it nearly impossible for many districts to take care of even [schools’] most basic needs.”
In addition, is this even Constitutional? An Arizona Schools Boards Association (ASBA) spokesperson is cited as responding, saying “SB 1172 raises grave constitutional concerns. It may violate school and district officials free speech rights and almost certainly chills protected speech by school officials and the parents and community members that interact with them. It will freeze the flow of information to the public that seeks to ascertain the impact of pending legislation on their schools and children’s education.”
As per a related announcement released by the ASBA, this “could have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of school and district officials” throughout the state but also (likely) beyond if this continues to catch on. School officials may be held “liable for a $5,000 civil fine just for sharing information on the positive or negative impacts of proposed legislation to parents or reporters.”
Time to fight back, again. If you are a citizen of Arizona (citizens only) and feel that the Arizona community (and potentially beyond) is entitled to the free flow of information and that free speech is worth protecting, click here to contact your legislators to oppose SB1172.