Utah lawmaker drops contentious measure with 30,000 signatures on teachers’ petition against it
Citing a “coordinated disinformation campaign” against his bill, a Utah lawmaker said on Friday he would now drop controversial efforts he had proposed to require teachers to publish their course syllabi and a list of e-learning materials that parents can inspect.
The surprising decision of Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, came in a three-page letter he posted on Twitter after his measure faced scrutiny and questions from educators across the state who say they are being micromanaged by lawmakers . The Utah Education Association had started a petition against the bill which garnered over 30,000 signatures.
Teuscher continued to defend HB234 Friday, however, saying that even if he holds it, he wants to work in the interim to refine the idea.
“Timing is everything in politics and in order to ensure that teachers are heard, misconceptions are dispelled and the best solutions are developed, I think this bill is going to take more than the 34 days it we remain in the session,” he wrote. .
UEA, Utah’s largest teachers’ union, celebrated the decision on Friday. Speaker Heidi Matthews said she wanted to show lawmakers the reality of what has happened in the classroom recently, with teachers overwhelmed by the pandemic and thrown into the political crossfire of their lesson plans.
“The voices of educators are powerful,” Matthews said. “UEA is pleased that this bill which would have created unnecessary extra work and distrust is not being pursued this year.”
Teuscher’s measure is one of two bills targeting the program this session. The other, SB114 from Republican Senator Lincoln Fillmore, has also raised concerns. It passed in committee on Thursday, with a 4-2 vote, over teachers’ objections and will then go to the full Senate.
Under SB114, every K-12 public school district and Utah charter would be required to follow a defined process for approving instructional materials through their local school board, allowing parents to review the program and weigh before it can be taught in class.
Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said Friday she favored Fillmore’s approach. Teuscher’s proposal was too rigid for a classroom setting, she said.
Fillmore “separates supplemental materials, so if I’m teaching civics and a current event has just happened and I want to bring it into the discussion, I can,” Millner said. “If there’s a YouTube video from an expert on a topic, they can use it.”
HB234, Teuscher said, also aimed to give parents more transparency in the classroom and “help alleviate feelings of mistrust between parents and teachers.” Both bills have the support of Utah Parents United, an outspoken right-wing coalition of about 4,000 parents pushing for conservative policies in schools across the state. Both were challenged by teachers.
Teuscher’s bill would have required Utah middle and high school educators to post all syllabi for every course publicly online. These should be updated throughout the school year to reflect any changes. And they should include a list of all learning materials that would be used in the classroom, including textbooks, videos, websites, and others.
The school or charter would then be required to review and approve these programs. And the school should keep a record of all these learning materials in a management system and provide a copy to any parent requesting further inspection.
Teuscher said the programs don’t have to be a “full detail of every lesson.” But the bill noted that the educator must “ensure that any learning materials used for student instruction that the educator has not listed in the online curriculum are listed in the curriculum management system. school learning”.
Programs were also supposed to stay on a school’s website for at least two years.
The UEA Petition said the legislation “shows a complete lack of understanding of instructional design and how teachers work. This is not a common-sense approach to increasing parental involvement and the responsiveness of public schools.
The union said it would have been harder for teachers to be flexible and add material to their lessons to reflect topical discussions. A teacher said she did not understand why parents were placed above teachers in lesson design, when that is what educators were trained to do in school.
Several also responded on Twitter to Teuscher pulling the bill. One commented, “Maybe if you want good teachers, the legislature should fund training and pay enough to attract top talent rather than micromanaging.”
Another added that a school district’s teaching materials are already required to meet state standards for what can be taught — set by Utah State Board of Education (and often overseen by the Utah Legislature, such as with rules on sex education). And there’s a database where teachers can see what textbooks they’ve checked and what’s compliant with state law.
Many districts and charters also already have a curriculum committee that includes parents to oversee the selection process for specific books. And most allow parents to see the documents on request.
A teacher said, “Please come and visit the teachers and see what we are really doing. See how often we need to adapt plans for IEPs [individualized education plans for students with disabilities], absent pupils and repetition. We are professionals. Let us show you what we do just as we show parents. Transparency already exists in schools.
Still, Teuscher said he spoke to “countless” teachers and parents, as well as the state superintendent, during the drafting of the bill and did not see it as an impediment to the work of educators. His effort, he added, was not aimed at “scoring political points”.
“It would be ridiculous and counterproductive,” he said in his letter.
Instead, he said, he wanted parents to be more involved in what their children are learning and engaging with the material. He told how the summer before his 10th year in high school, he was assigned to read three books before the first day of class.
The teacher sent the list home in a letter to the parents. And Teuscher said his father decided to read the books alongside his son.
“This summer was one of the most memorable educational experiences of my life,” he said. “If my teacher hadn’t written that letter and shared what we were learning, I never would have had this impactful experience.”
He added that in recent years there has been growing tension with parents and teachers over what is taught in the classroom. This has included debates particularly about race; Last session, the Utah legislature banned any discussion of critical race theory in schools here (even though there is no evidence it was discussed in class).
“Anger, hostility, and accusations around curriculum issues continue to escalate, despite teachers’ best efforts to allay parental concerns,” Teuscher wrote. “While it’s fair to say that there are instances where these concerns have been justified, the vast majority of teachers are doing an incredible job and truly a tremendous job of providing the best education for our children.”
He said his intention was to create more transparency with parents about what teachers are doing so they don’t feel ‘they have no control over what their children are being taught’. .
“The hope is that taking a few minutes each week to update Canvas [an online platform most schools in Utah use] would allow parents to keep abreast of the topics and material discussed in class,” he wrote.
His intern, however, said on Friday that Teuscher received more than 400 emails about the bill and was inundated with those messages, believing most misunderstood the purpose of HB234.
So the lawmaker said he would take the time to get it right, talk to more teachers and parents, and “have a better forum for public input.” He said that was the purpose of the legislative process, to review and adjust and find consensus, rather than “to put out fires and dispel untruths”.
“I am impressed by the many sacrifices teachers make and in no way do I want to add to their stress,” he said. “That being said, I strongly believe that if we can find a way to provide more transparency in the curriculum, we could alleviate some of the constraints that teachers are under.”
—Tribune correspondent Bryan Schott contributed to this report.