Questions arise over use of public resources and TUSD students

Yesterday, Senator Frank Antenori sent an inquiry to the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board regarding the use of government resources for the purpose of conducting partisan political activity today. Antenori wrote the Governing Board due to an incident this week, in which a TUSD math teacher sent an email to his students during school hours, through the district’s email service, promoting a fundraising event for progressive Congressman Raul Grijalva.

The day before, Antenori, the Arizona Senate Majority Whip engaged his fellow Government Reform Committee member David Lujan in a discussion of SB 1202, which would prohibit teachers from engaging in partisan behavior in the classroom. Senator Lori Klein proposed the legislation due to her constituents’ concerns about partisan activity, including indoctrination by teachers.

Lujan argued that he could understand the need for the law if math teachers were engaging in political activity in their classrooms, but he believed that a scenario like that was unlikely. Antenori argued that it was possible, and if it occurred it was unethical.

Klein who had also proposed two other pieces of legislation that would increase curriculum transparency, and educational options for parents of students in failing schools, argued that the law was necessary to prevent both conservatives and liberals from politicizing classrooms. The law is based on existing Arizona law A.R.S. 15-535 which prohibits sectarian instruction and indoctrination.

A.R.S. 15-511 states that “a teacher who uses sectarian or denominational books or teaches any sectarian doctrine or conducts any religious exercises in school is guilty of unprofessional conduct and his certificate shall be revoked.”

In an odd twist, while the TUSD teacher was sending out a message to 16 year students on behalf of Grijalva who is facing multiple Democratic Party primary challengers, Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, a conservative activist and Grijalva’s Republican challenger, was sending out a message to the Senators on behalf the those students. Saucedo Mercer told the committee that, “As a community leader who has been actively involved in the issues facing the public schools in Southern Arizona, I have seen firsthand the damage done to our young students by partisans who pretend to be educators.”

The law passed through committee 5-2.

Antenori’s letter read:

Dear Gentlemen and Lady,

Can you please provide me with any information in regard to your policy, if any, within the Tucson Unified School District, that deals with employee use of government resources for the purpose of conducting partisan political activity?

Warmest regards,
Frank R. Antenori
State Senator, District 30

TUSD’s Superintendent Pedicone is out of town at a school administrators’ conference.

Gabby Saucedo Mercer said she would like to see all elected officials involved condemn the actions of teachers who would use their access to kids to support their political interests. “I applaud Senator Antenori’s actions on behalf of our community’s students. The public’s trust is earned by those who are willing to ask questions and give honest answers.”

Senator Antenori said of the email, “It has always been the perception that the left has been exploiting taxpayer dollars to push their agenda and indoctrinate young children, this is just more evidence that it’s not just perception.”