Joined: Nov. 2005
|Billy Gerchick never hesitated before assigning his English students a pair of short stories last week by Ernest Hemingway — “Soldier’s Home” and “Hills Like White Elephants” — despite their controversial themes.|
But a bill being sponsored by a powerful East Valley lawmaker could give Gerchick, a teacher at Scottsdale’s Coronado High School, reason to pause in the future. It could keep him from assigning the classic works because of their subjects: war and abortion, respectively.
Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, is the driving force behind a proposal that seeks to quiet teachers who openly endorse or champion political and social issues in the classroom.
Verschoor said the proposal is a reaction from constituents who describe a culture in which teachers are often not fair or impartial when it comes to expressing political viewpoints.
The bill gives students the power to speak out against outspoken teachers, he said. And it holds teachers, who are paid with state tax dollars, accountable for what they say.
But teachers, students and other critics fear the measure would suppress free speech in the classroom. Likewise, they worry the measure would drive teachers out of Arizona — or out of the profession — for fear of being punished.
The bill, SB1542, would forbid teachers working in their official capacity from endorsing or opposing political candidates or expressing opinions about social issues. Teachers could face a $500 fine or lose their jobs if found guilty.
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