Parents, Teachers, Students Deserve The Transparency Provided Through SB 1357

PHOENIX – On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing on SB 1357, a curriculum transparency bill. The bill requires governing boards “to prescribe and enforce policies that allow parents and guardians of pupils to access instructional materials that are being used or considered for use.”

For years, education activists have fought for this type of legislation. A version of the bill was first introduced in 2011. Both libertarian-leaning and progressive legislators rejected it on the basis that the additional transparency was onerous. Other less-ideologically driven legislators dismissed it as one more regulation that “lazy” or “overwhelmed” parents did not want and would not use for the benefit of their children.

Administrators were forced to remove the sexually explicit novel “Dreaming in Cuban” from a recommended reading list provided by the Arizona Department of Education after parents and community members expressed concern when the novel had been assigned to students in two Buena High School English classes. According to one parent, students were asked to read sexually charged portions of the novel out loud in class.

Since then, social media has created a forum through which activists and concerned parents have shared both accurate and inaccurate information about what is and is not being taught in our publicly funded classrooms. More often than not, the information does little to advance the interests of educators, parents, students and taxpayers. Instead, it has fueled ugly fights on mostly baseless claims about what children are consuming in their classrooms.

Related article: Controversial book pulled from Buena High classes updated

SB 1357 would change that. While it does little to prevent teachers from inserting their political agendas in curricula and classroom discussions, it would eliminate much of the confusion for parents and allow them to question the material before it even gets into their kids’ classrooms.

In 2011 the cost of publishing materials and making them available may have been excessive especially for the less-than-21st-Century classrooms in some of our more rural areas. Today, the cost to districts would be de minimis.

The law should be unnecessary. Schools should make as much information easily available without being required to do so.

There is really no reason to object to SB 1357 unless of course schools have something to hide. If that is the case, Tuesday’s hearing will be must watch television. I can’t wait to hear administrators admit it.

Senate Fact Sheet SB 1357:

Purpose

Directs district and charter schools to allow parents and guardians to review instructional materials and requires a public hearing process prior to approval by a school district governing board (governing board) or charter school governing body (governing body).

Background

Before a course is implemented in a common school or high school, a governing board must approve a course of study including a basic textbook. All supplemental books for the course are also subject to approval if the course does not include a basic textbook (A.R.S. §§ 15-721 and 15-722).

Statute requires a governing board to make a copy of each textbook available for 60 days at the school district office for public review and comment and post the textbook on the school district’s website before the governing board considers final selection. All meetings of committees authorized for textbook review must be open to the public (A.R.S. §§ 15-721 and 15-722).

On written request, school personnel designated by a governing board must make at least one copy of the instructional materials available for review by parents or guardians. Printed textbooks, supplementary books and subject matter materials can be taken by parents or guardians for review from school district premises for no longer than 48 hours (A.R.S. § 15-730).

A textbook is defined as printed instructional materials or digital content, or both, and related printed or non-printed instructional materials, that are written and published primarily for use in school instruction and that are required by a state educational agency or a local educational agency for use by pupils in the classroom, including materials that require the availability of electronic equipment in order to be used as a learning resource (A.R.S. § 15-722).

There is no anticipated fiscal impact to the state General Fund associated with this legislation.

Provisions

Instructional Materials Review and Disclosure

1. Requires each governing board and governing body to prescribe and enforce policies that allow parents and guardians of pupils to access instructional materials that are being used or considered for use.

2. Requires the prescribed policies to:

a) designate at least one district or charter school employee to maintain the instructional materials used in the current school year at the district or charter school;

b) identify the location at the district or charter school where a parent or guardian can access the instructional materials;

c) identify a prominent location on a district or charter school’s website where a parent or guardian can access a complete listing of instructional materials used in the prior year that is designated by grade and subject area, as prescribed;

d) outline how a parent or guardian can submit a written request to access or review the instructional materials;

e) outline how a parent or guardian can take printed instructional materials from the district or charter school premises for review and return the materials within 48 hours;

f) outline the method of how electronic access is granted for parents or guardians to review digital instructional materials used at the district or charter school; and

g) require a teacher to submit a listing to the school principal with the current instructional materials used in their class for review and approval.

3. Directs each district or charter school to annually post, by August 1, a listing on a prominent location on its website, that includes;

a) the instructional materials used by grade level and subject matter during the prior school year; and

b) the title, author, organization or website associated with each individual instructional material used, but not the digital reproduction of the entirety of the instructional material.

4. Requires each district and charter school to:

a) allow parents and guardians access to the instructional materials, upon written request and advance approval;

b) make at least one copy of the instructional materials, being used or considered for use, available for review for the entire school year; and

c) provide a written or electronic copy each year of the outlined policies to each parent or guardian when they enroll their pupil at the district or charter school.

5. Requires a district or charter school that maintains a student handbook to include the outlined policies in the handbook.

Public Review and Comment

6. Directs a governing board or governing body to:

a) make the proposed instructional materials available and accessible for public review and comment for at least 60 days;

b) host at least two public hearings within the 60-day period; and

c) approve any instructional materials before they are used in the district or charter school.

7. Specifies public comment can include written comments, oral comments and comments submitted through email.

Miscellaneous

8. Defines instructional materials as any of the following that are created and published primarily for use by teachers and pupils in school instruction, including classroom instruction, nonpupil presentations, assemblies, lectures and non-pupil-led discussion groups, and materials that are required by a state educational agency or local educational agency for use by pupils in the classroom, including materials that require the availability of electronic equipment in order to be used as a learning resource:

a) textbooks, including digital textbooks or content;

b) mandatory and optional reading materials, whether digital or in print, including all lists from which pupils are required to select one or more reading materials;

c) websites;

d) films;

e) online applications used for pupil instruction; and

f) online databases.

9. Repeals current statute allowing parents or guardians to review instructional materials upon written request.

10. Becomes effective on the general effective date.