In and Out of public classrooms, Arizona teacher’s language would have been regulated by FCC guidelines, said proposed bill

By Cecelia Marshall

Teachers throughout Arizona’s public school systems could have been fined, suspended or fired if they used any profane, indecent or obscene speech or conduct as a result of a new bill this year proposed by Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem.  Though the bill ultimately failed, enough concern from public school students, parents, and faculty could resurrect it in the future.Image

It also raises questions and concerns about what types of restrictions can be placed on publicly funded teachers related to the FCC regulations, what can be taught in the classroom and how far teacher’s conduct extends outside the school.

All K-12 educational institutions in the state including state universities and public colleges would have been affected and instructors could have faced suspension or firing depending on the level and number of offenses.

SB 1467 stated any employee who gives instruction in a public classroom faces punishment if they “engages in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the Federal Communications Commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio.”

The punishments: A one week suspension for the first offense.  Two weeks suspension for the second offense.  And if caught three times, the teacher would have been fired.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem was first introduced to the Senate Jan. 31. Though the Senate committee advanced the measure earlier in February by a vote of 5-2, the bill was assigned to the Senate Education Committee but never made it on the agenda set by Chairman Rich Crandall.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said it is unaware of a similar bill passed or proposed in any other state.

Klein says she proposed the new law after being pressed by a parent in her district about vulgar teachers.  Floyd Brown, a father and also longtime Republican strategist from Anthem, pulled his daughter from her local public high school and began homeschooling after she complained about a teacher using offensive language in the classroom.

Klein and Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert who also supported the bill, were unavailable for comment after multiple attempts.

Klein told the Senate committee in February that she didn’t think school boards were protecting students from offensive language, according to the Associated Press.

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

Klein told the Associated Press regarding schools, “You’re there to be educated.  You’re not there to talk smack,” she said.

Although it states in the bill, it was not Klein’s intention for public colleges and universities to also be a part of the restrictions, she told the Associated Press.

Sources in the senate say there was a general opposition of the bill around the office as well as it was under scrutiny from organizations such as the National Coalition Against Censorship as unconstitutional for creating strict guidelines for teachers cussing in the classroom.

Sen. David Schapira, D-Tempe serves on the Senate Education Committee and was previously a high school teacher.

“Frankly school boards are the ones who should be making these decisions,” Schapira told Fox Phoenix in an interview.

“I was a high school teacher and I taught in a high school where I never heard anything like this, I never heard from a student, parent or teacher that this was a problem in any classroom,” he said.

Many critics also describe the bill as being poorly drafted and potentially infringing on teacher’s private lives.  The over-generalized language and terms “speech” and “conduct” could mean that Arizona public school teachers would have been forbidden to engage in FCC-regulated activities such as sex, cursing or urinating.

The FCC, given responsibility by Congress, can deem programming aired content in violation of being obscene, indecent, or having profane language during certain hours.

Indecent and profane material is measured by “contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities,” or consists of “language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”  The First Amendment doesn’t protect obscenities.

At the same time, school administrators say a new law like SB 1467 would never be needed due to the stricter rules in place already throughout Arizona. The national guidelines set by FCC are broader than many district and school policies for employees in the classrooms.

The Arizona School Boards Association, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization and member of the National School Boards Association, creates a policy model to benefit the work of a school district and these school district members can choose to put these policies in place at their schools or modify it given the circumstances.

Tracey Benson, Director of Communications for the Arizona School Boards Association, said “virtually all Arizona school districts subscribe to our policy services and most have adopted policies very similar to these models.”

“All personnel employed by the District are expected to relate to students of the District in a manner that maintains social and moral patterns of behavior consistent with community standards and acceptable professional conduct,” the Statement of Ethics for School Employees states.

The organization’s policies also require employees not to use “profane or abusive language, symbols, or conduct” while supporting the dignity of the educational profession and also holding mutual respect for students and fellow faculty.

“We hadn’t heard about this issue from any other districts,” Benson said.

There are more than 240 governing school boards with about 1,200 members from Arizona’s school districts as members of Arizona School Boards Association including Catalina Foothills District and Tucson Unified School District.

Scott Mundell teaches educational policy and practice at the University of Arizona as an assistant adjunct professor.  He has also previously worked as a middle school principal and the assistant school superintendent for the Marana District for about 20 years.

For Mundell, the bill was a “waste of good ink” and a type of “showboating” that would have hardly been useful, he said.

“Most teachers are good about what type of language they use,” Mundell said. Already teachers in the classrooms, especially K-12 have more restrictions with school district policies on what they can and cannot say; stricter than even that of the FCC guidelines, he said.

Image

Policies are enforced differently depending on the school.  Marana School District, like other districts throughout Arizona, require a daily walkthrough of classrooms by administration and school principals are expected to investigate any complaints made by students, teachers or parents.

In all his years of being a school administrator, Mundell says his experience firing a teacher for profane language has been minimal.  Even at Pima Community College, where he has taught classes, they deal swiftly with teachers who step out of line with their language.

Research shows if teachers use profanities toward students to get their attention or point across, the students often go into a “fight or flight” mode, Mundell describes.  The initial shock of harsh language places students in a mentality where they tune out from the rest of the class and the lesson.  Therefore, it defeats the purpose to get them to pay attention, Mundell said.

“I don’t pay taxes to pay salaries for teachers to cuss at my children. If they want to cuss, they can cuss at their own children, said Anita Stussie, mother of two students who attended Catalina Foothill High School. “I think profanity is a lame crutch for people who are classless, lack civility, courtesy, and consideration.  I don’t think it’s funny or creative,” she said.

Stussie said she thinks what the bill was aiming to accomplish was “fantastic.”

Teachers already spend more time than parents do during the day with their kids and this automatically puts them in a more powerful position, she said.  They need to be able to communicate without using profanity which can correspond to aggressive behavior in students, Stussie said.

“Words turn into actions and kids see this,” she said.  We see bullying more and more at schools and it may be related to adults’ conduct.  Positivity is needed in schools instead of pessimism, she said.

                “Public school teachers do not ‘shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate’ but the rights are quite transformed”, said Toni M. Massaro, Constitutional Law Regents professor at James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona.

The younger the children, the greater the right of the public school employer to expect that they behave professionally and this may include restrictions on vulgarity or cussing in the classroom, Massaro said.

But the school’s standards may not be overbroad or vague, says Massaro. The United States Supreme Court will decide an important case, CBS CORPS v. FCC (2012), this term that deals with vulgarity and indecency on broadcast media that may shed some light on this issue. Though schools are not broadcast media, there are some similar concerns (children in the audience, especially).

For higher levels of education, the concerns about minors in the audience disappear and the professors also have academic freedom. There may well be situations in which language offensive to, or inappropriate for minors, may have a proper pedagogical purpose, Massaro stated.

Massaro is referring, for example, to the important First Amendment case, Cohen v. California (1970) involving a person who had a jacket that read, “Fuck the Draft, Stop the War.” It would be impossible without allowing the professor to discuss the language itself and the Court’s ruling that “one man’s vulgarity is another person’s lyric.”

Wayne Decker, professor and Director of International Studies at the University of Arizona, has taught for 35 years as well as worked abroad in developing countries.  Decker takes his job seriously to motivate students about the world and obligations abroad.

“I am oddly enough a human being, not a machine.  I want students there and I think what I have to say is of value and I do not always organize what I’m going to say in advance.  I come about it with a certain degree of passion and emotion,” he said.

“I have some really down to earth experience in African and South East Asia.  It’s not very pretty so sometimes in talking about those things; I’m going to use words that the FCC probably would not like. And I don’t give a damn.”

Massaro says cleansing the college classroom of all “indecent and profane language” thus not only raises vagueness issues but may interfere with discussions that are important, even central to democratic processes.  Most ironically, it could hamper the ability to have a full and free discussion of the First Amendment, she said.

“I don’t like [the bill] at any level,” said Decker. “When you start to over regulate these things, it hurts.”

“I think teaching is a form of leadership and teachers, all of them for better or for worse, are role models.  Who’s up front really matters,” Decker said.  Even if this means exposing true human emotion with emphatic language.

Both Stussie and Mundell disagree though.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to use that type of language to express yourself even when you are passionate about something.  Cussing is a fall back for not being able to communicate,” Stussie said.

“The English language has a lot of synonyms you can use to avoid [cussing], Mundell said.

                Ariel Wienert, previously a Catalina Foothills High School student and now attending the University of Arizona acknowledges that the classroom is a learning environment meant to be respectful with speech.  Though no teacher in high school ever cussed at her, she does recall professors at UA using profanity.

“In my experience, I think it’s fine.  I think it establishes more of a relationship with the students just because we [cuss] so much it just helps us relate to the teacher more.  I’ve noticed I’m closer with a teacher when they cuss just because I know they are more comfortable around us if they are able to do that so I feel more comfortable being around them,” Wienert said.

“I think a lot of the [bill’s] effort was to have accountability in class and have a measurement of results and clear outcomes which is all really good.  It’s a general improvement in the content of classes for students here and around the country.  It forces the people on the faculty to really think clearly and…to organize who is doing what so the quality will be better,” Decker said.

“Teaching is threatened across the board, especially at the primary junior high and high school levels,” Dr. Decker said.  “Why you would make it even harder for excellent teachers is beyond me.”

Nonetheless, people were initially attracted to the bill because of its primary intentions and effect it could have drawn regarding the rights of teachers’.  But, given school and district policies already in place regarding cussing and profanity, the ineffectiveness of SB 1467 put it in a critical position that may have resulted in its failure.

Even with more detailed terms and provisions, it sources say it is unlikely a similar bill will be born again, though the debate will certainly continue whether teachers should be penalized for cursing in class and if so, how.

Teachers throughout Arizona’s public school systems could have been fined, suspended or fired if they used any profane, indecent or obscene speech or conduct as a result of a new bill this year proposed by Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem.  Though the bill ultimately failed, enough concern from public school students, parents, and faculty could resurrect it in the future.

It also raises questions and concerns about what types of restrictions can be placed on publicly funded teachers related to the FCC regulations, what can be taught in the classroom and how far teacher’s conduct extends outside the school.

All K-12 educational institutions in the state including state universities and public colleges would have been affected and instructors could have faced suspension or firing depending on the level and number of offenses.

SB 1467 stated any employee who gives instruction in a public classroom faces punishment if they “engages in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the Federal Communications Commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio.”

The punishments: A one week suspension for the first offense.  Two weeks suspension for the second offense.  And if caught three times, the teacher would have been fired.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem was first introduced to the Senate Jan. 31. Though the Senate committee advanced the measure earlier in February by a vote of 5-2, the bill was assigned to the Senate Education Committee but never made it on the agenda set by Chairman Rich Crandall.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said it is unaware of a similar bill passed or proposed in any other state.

Klein says she proposed the new law after being pressed by a parent in her district about vulgar teachers.  Floyd Brown, a father and also longtime Republican strategist from Anthem, pulled his daughter from her local public high school and began homeschooling after she complained about a teacher using offensive language in the classroom.

Klein and Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert who also supported the bill, were unavailable for comment after multiple attempts.

Klein told the Senate committee in February that she didn’t think school boards were protecting students from offensive language, according to the Associated Press.

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

Klein told the Associated Press regarding schools, “You’re there to be educated.  You’re not there to talk smack,” she said.

Although it states in the bill, it was not Klein’s intention for public colleges and universities to also be a part of the restrictions, she told the Associated Press.

Sources in the senate say there was a general opposition of the bill around the office as well as it was under scrutiny from organizations such as the National Coalition Against Censorship as unconstitutional for creating strict guidelines for teachers cussing in the classroom.

Sen. David Schapira, D-Tempe serves on the Senate Education Committee and was previously a high school teacher.

“Frankly school boards are the ones who should be making these decisions,” Schapira told Fox Phoenix in an interview.

“I was a high school teacher and I taught in a high school where I never heard anything like this, I never heard from a student, parent or teacher that this was a problem in any classroom,” he said.

Many critics also describe the bill as being poorly drafted and potentially infringing on teacher’s private lives.  The over-generalized language and terms “speech” and “conduct” could mean that Arizona public school teachers would have been forbidden to engage in FCC-regulated activities such as sex, cursing or urinating.

The FCC, given responsibility by Congress, can deem programming aired content in violation of being obscene, indecent, or having profane language during certain hours.

Indecent and profane material is measured by “contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities,” or consists of “language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”  The First Amendment doesn’t protect obscenities.

At the same time, school administrators say a new law like SB 1467 would never be needed due to the stricter rules in place already throughout Arizona. The national guidelines set by FCC are broader than many district and school policies for employees in the classrooms.

The Arizona School Boards Association, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization and member of the National School Boards Association, creates a policy model to benefit the work of a school district and these school district members can choose to put these policies in place at their schools or modify it given the circumstances.

Tracey Benson, Director of Communications for the Arizona School Boards Association, said “virtually all Arizona school districts subscribe to our policy services and most have adopted policies very similar to these models.”

“All personnel employed by the District are expected to relate to students of the District in a manner that maintains social and moral patterns of behavior consistent with community standards and acceptable professional conduct,” the Statement of Ethics for School Employees states.

The organization’s policies also require employees not to use “profane or abusive language, symbols, or conduct” while supporting the dignity of the educational profession and also holding mutual respect for students and fellow faculty.

“We hadn’t heard about this issue from any other districts,” Benson said.

There are more than 240 governing school boards with about 1,200 members from Arizona’s school districts as members of Arizona School Boards Association including Catalina Foothills District and Tucson Unified School District.

Scott Mundell teaches educational policy and practice at the University of Arizona as an assistant adjunct professor.  He has also previously worked as a middle school principal and the assistant school superintendent for the Marana District for about 20 years.

For Mundell, the bill was a “waste of good ink” and a type of “showboating” that would have hardly been useful, he said.

“Most teachers are good about what type of language they use,” Mundell said. Already teachers in the classrooms, especially K-12 have more restrictions with school district policies on what they can and cannot say; stricter than even that of the FCC guidelines, he said.

Policies are enforced differently depending on the school.  Marana School District, like other districts throughout Arizona, require a daily walkthrough of classrooms by administration and school principals are expected to investigate any complaints made by students, teachers or parents.

In all his years of being a school administrator, Mundell says his experience firing a teacher for profane language has been minimal.  Even at Pima Community College, where he has taught classes, they deal swiftly with teachers who step out of line with their language.

Research shows if teachers use profanities toward students to get their attention or point across, the students often go into a “fight or flight” mode, Mundell describes.  The initial shock of harsh language places students in a mentality where they tune out from the rest of the class and the lesson.  Therefore, it defeats the purpose to get them to pay attention, Mundell said.

“I don’t pay taxes to pay salaries for teachers to cuss at my children. If they want to cuss, they can cuss at their own children, said Anita Stussie, mother of two students who attended Catalina Foothill High School. “I think profanity is a lame crutch for people who are classless, lack civility, courtesy, and consideration.  I don’t think it’s funny or creative,” she said.

Stussie said she thinks what the bill was aiming to accomplish was “fantastic.”

Teachers already spend more time than parents do during the day with their kids and this automatically puts them in a more powerful position, she said.  They need to be able to communicate without using profanity which can correspond to aggressive behavior in students, Stussie said.

“Words turn into actions and kids see this,” she said.  We see bullying more and more at schools and it may be related to adults’ conduct.  Positivity is needed in schools instead of pessimism, she said.

                “Public school teachers do not ‘shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate’ but the rights are quite transformed”, said Toni M. Massaro, Constitutional Law Regents professor at James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona.

The younger the children, the greater the right of the public school employer to expect that they behave professionally and this may include restrictions on vulgarity or cussing in the classroom, Massaro said.

But the school’s standards may not be overbroad or vague, says Massaro. The United States Supreme Court will decide an important case, CBS CORPS v. FCC (2012), this term that deals with vulgarity and indecency on broadcast media that may shed some light on this issue. Though schools are not broadcast media, there are some similar concerns (children in the audience, especially).

For higher levels of education, the concerns about minors in the audience disappear and the professors also have academic freedom. There may well be situations in which language offensive to, or inappropriate for minors, may have a proper pedagogical purpose, Massaro stated.

Massaro is referring, for example, to the important First Amendment case, Cohen v. California (1970) involving a person who had a jacket that read, “Fuck the Draft, Stop the War.” It would be impossible without allowing the professor to discuss the language itself and the Court’s ruling that “one man’s vulgarity is another person’s lyric.”

Wayne Decker, professor and Director of International Studies at the University of Arizona, has taught for 35 years as well as worked abroad in developing countries.  Decker takes his job seriously to motivate students about the world and obligations abroad.

“I am oddly enough a human being, not a machine.  I want students there and I think what I have to say is of value and I do not always organize what I’m going to say in advance.  I come about it with a certain degree of passion and emotion,” he said.

“I have some really down to earth experience in African and South East Asia.  It’s not very pretty so sometimes in talking about those things; I’m going to use words that the FCC probably would not like. And I don’t give a damn.”

Massaro says cleansing the college classroom of all “indecent and profane language” thus not only raises vagueness issues but may interfere with discussions that are important, even central to democratic processes.  Most ironically, it could hamper the ability to have a full and free discussion of the First Amendment, she said.

“I don’t like [the bill] at any level,” said Decker. “When you start to over regulate these things, it hurts.”

“I think teaching is a form of leadership and teachers, all of them for better or for worse, are role models.  Who’s up front really matters,” Decker said.  Even if this means exposing true human emotion with emphatic language.

Both Stussie and Mundell disagree though.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to use that type of language to express yourself even when you are passionate about something.  Cussing is a fall back for not being able to communicate,” Stussie said.

“The English language has a lot of synonyms you can use to avoid [cussing], Mundell said.

                Ariel Wienert, previously a Catalina Foothills High School student and now attending the University of Arizona acknowledges that the classroom is a learning environment meant to be respectful with speech.  Though no teacher in high school ever cussed at her, she does recall professors at UA using profanity.

“In my experience, I think it’s fine.  I think it establishes more of a relationship with the students just because we [cuss] so much it just helps us relate to the teacher more.  I’ve noticed I’m closer with a teacher when they cuss just because I know they are more comfortable around us if they are able to do that so I feel more comfortable being around them,” Wienert said.

“I think a lot of the [bill’s] effort was to have accountability in class and have a measurement of results and clear outcomes which is all really good.  It’s a general improvement in the content of classes for students here and around the country.  It forces the people on the faculty to really think clearly and…to organize who is doing what so the quality will be better,” Decker said.

“Teaching is threatened across the board, especially at the primary junior high and high school levels,” Dr. Decker said.  “Why you would make it even harder for excellent teachers is beyond me.”

Nonetheless, people were initially attracted to the bill because of its primary intentions and effect it could have drawn regarding the rights of teachers’.  But, given school and district policies already in place regarding cussing and profanity, the ineffectiveness of SB 1467 put it in a critical position that may have resulted in its failure.

Even with more detailed terms and provisions, it sources say it is unlikely a similar bill will be born again, though the debate will certainly continue whether teachers should be penalized for cursing in class and if so, how.

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