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Lawmakers debate first of two ‘transparency’ bills to approve classroom materials

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Teachers worry new 'transparency' proposals would create additional layers of bureaucracy at a time when they are already overburdened.

Utah lawmakers debated and heard public comment Thursday on the first of two ‘transparency’ bills that would require a public process to approve classroom materials.

The proposals come in response to parent concerns over what some say are inappropriate lessons, particularly around race and gender issues. Many teachers worry that the measures would create additional layers of bureaucracy at a time when they are already overburdened. Educators also say the effort is based on assumptions that they’re attempting to radicalize students.

The first bill, S.B. 114, sponsored by state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R- South Jordan, was initially proposed last October. It would require public school boards to “establish an open process, involving parents of students enrolled in the LEA [local education agency], to review and recommend instructional materials for board approval.” Board members would have to post recommendations online and officially adopt materials in a public meeting.

The process would only apply to materials that are approved district-wide, not to “supplemental materials” that individual teachers use to enhance their lessons, such as a film or newspaper article.

The second bill, H.B. 234, would require that teachers post a course syllabus online before the school year begins detailing any learning materials they’ll use. It has not yet had a public hearing.

Currently, curriculum approval processes vary by district. Nothing prevents a district from soliciting parent feedback on classroom materials before they’re adopted, but it is not required.

The materials teachers use, however, must follow state standards, which are approved and revised through a lengthy public process.

In a Senate Education Committee hearing Thursday, Fillmore said the bill does not place any limits on the materials teachers can use, but it does set up a process that allows parents to provide feedback before things are approved.

“Education is a partnership and parents are vital partners in that process,” he said. “It is appropriate to have the elected representatives of parents hear from parents through that process.”

Public comments on the proposal were mixed, with parents and teachers voicing both support and opposition. Lawmakers ultimately passed the bill out of committee with a favorable recommendation to move it forward to the full senate.

The state’s two major teacher unions, the Utah Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Utah Chapter, each oppose the measure.

“We've heard from teachers, the message has been loud and clear,” said AFT president Brad Asay. “They've had enough. Teachers are done being in the center of political issues.”

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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