No Cussing in Class: New Arizona Bill Aimed at Teachers, Not Students

No Cussing in Class: New Arizona Bill Aimed at Teachers, Not Students
A new bill in the Arizona State Senate could criminalize teachers who use inappropriate language in the classroom. We’ll take a look at both sides of the debate.

A new bill aimed at the Arizona senate would punish public school teachers who violated Federal Communication Commission guidelines by using profanity and obscenities in the classroom. The bill was introduced by Arizona State Senator Lori Klein, after a parent complained about a teacher who used foul language in his daughter’s class. However, not everyone is in favor of the bill; some say it is an unnecessary measure that should be handled by districts, rather than at the state level.

Origins of the Bill

According to a report at News Day, the original complaint came from Floyd Brown, a parent of a high school student and a long-time Republican strategist. Brown was responsible for the infamous “Willie Horton” ad during the 1998 presidential campaign that some thought played a major role in Michael Dukakis losing the election. Brown told News Day that his daughter, a sophomore, came home from school upset one day because one of her teachers was using the F-word in class.

Brown took the issue to school administrators, but told CBS News that the educators did not take him seriously. When his complaints went unaddressed, he pulled his daughter out of the high school, and she is now being homeschooled.

“I’m not going to subject my daughter to that kind of environment,” Brown told CBS News.

Next, Brown took his complaint about the teacher’s language to Klein, since she represented his Arizona district. Klein called the language “totally inappropriate” and told CBS that teachers that don’t keep their language clean are setting a poor example for students.

“You’re there to be educated,” Klein stated. “You’re not there to talk smack.”

School Claims No Knowledge of Complaint

In the case of Brown’s complaint, it doesn’t appear that local school district officials or the school were ever notified of the problem. A representative for the school district told CBS that the school had received no complaints about inappropriate language in a classroom. She added that if it had, it would have been a violation of the district’s professional language policy.

Tracey Benson, a spokesperson for the Arizona School Boards Association, told CBS that most local districts adopt professional conduct guidelines that bar any sort of profanity or profane actions by employees while they are on the job.

About the Bill

Klein’s bill, dubbed Senate Bill 1467, according to MSNBC, would require teachers to limit their speech to language that is compliant with Federal Communications Commission's regulations governing what is appropriate for television and radio. FCC regulations limit the use of obscene, indecent and profane speech. The guidelines also define profanity as “including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”

The bill incorporates a three-strikes penalty for anyone teaching in in a public school, which allows the state to punish teachers who consistently use four-letter words in class. Penalties might include a one-week suspension for a first violation, all the way to firing for a third offense. Schools would also have discretion to fire a teacher after the first or second offense, under the current terms of the bill, if they felt that punishment was warranted.

Klein did tell USA Today that she was still “tweaking” the bill and was likely to change the punishment for a first offense to a warning. However, Klein wants to send a strong message to teachers about their language choices in front of students. She said the bill came about after complaints like Brown’s, regarding teachers using inappropriate language in the classroom setting.

“Students are young and impressionable and teachers should not be using four-letter words in the classroom,” Klein told MSNBC.

Sen. Frank Antenori, a Tucson Republican who voted in favor of the bill, told CBS about a recent report that detailed a pattern of abusive language used by teachers and others within some Tucson schools. Antenori called some of the comments “pretty darn shocking” and added he was surprised some of the employees using those words did not actually lose their jobs.

Reaction to Klein’s Proposal

Although some teachers agreed with Klein’s assertion that teachers should not use profanity in the classroom, some were surprised that there would need to be state legislation to keep this problem under control.

“I don’t remember this being a big problem when I taught high school,” Arizona lawmaker David Schapira was reported saying in the New York Daily News.

Schapira also told USA Today, “In K-12 classrooms, teachers shouldn’t be using those words with their students. But the school districts should implement those policies.”

Chris Maza, who has taught high school French for more than two decades, was also surprised by the bill’s introduction. Maza told USA Today, “I don’t find this such a significant issue that we would have to have a law.” Maza agrees with Schapira’s opinion that language issues in the classroom should be handled by local school districts.

Is the Bill a Slippery Slope?

Kelly Parrish, a high school English teacher in Phoenix, told CBS that while she keeps her conduct professional in the classroom, a rule that forces teachers to abide by FCC guidelines could cause trouble for teachers presenting curriculum that is not considered G-rated. For example, Parrish is concerned that words banned by the FCC could actually come up in some literature studies, like the racial slurs found in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“We’re supposed to be preparing them for the next level,” Parrish said. “If we just put them in a bubble and protect them, I don’t think we’re doing a good job at making them ready for real-life situations by sugar-coating everything.”

Whether or not teachers' oral conduct will be governed by the state remains to be scene, but Arizona instructors have certainly been alerted to the importance of the language they use in the classroom.

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