Lien: Stop Policing Utah Teachers


(Courtesy Sen. Lincoln Fillmore)

By Kayla Lien, Opinion Writer


A bill introduced in the 2023 Utah Legislative Session will continue to censor curriculum. S.B. 55 will require that all teaching materials are posted online, reviewed by parents and voted on in a public meeting.

This bill hurts Utah educators, placing them under a microscope that hinders constitutionally granted free speech.

S.B. 55 requires that teachers post their curriculum and any materials they use. “Learning material” refers to any resource used to “deliver or support a student’s learning” and can take the form of a textbook, video, website, etc. It will make all instructional materials readily available for parental view and gives information on how to select and approve materials for classroom use. It would establish an “open process” of selecting materials. This process does not apply to any concurrent enrollment, advanced placement or international baccalaureate programs, luckily, but does apply to both public and private schools.

A similar bill passed committee in Utah’s last Legislative Session — S.B. 114. This one requires that materials get posted online 30 days in advance. Interestingly enough, both bills owe their conception to Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, a Republican from South Jordan who owns a charter school management company.

Why are we micromanaging teachers? S.B. 55 places a magnifying glass on everything educators do, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it causes Utah teachers to leave their jobs. Last year, an article published by Pew asserted that the rise of parental rights legislation could push people out of the profession far earlier than expected.

Utah has always had an educator shortage. Low pay, blatant disrespect from parents or administrators and an alarming lack of safety due to lax gun control laws all contribute to educators rapidly leaving.

Educators go to school for a minimum of four years and receive training to teach — parents don’t. This bill could potentially silence discussions on materials deemed controversial, simply because parents want to shield their children from the truth.

Furthermore, it sounds like parents don’t even want this. In an interview with The Daily Utah Chronicle’s Opinion Editor, CJ Alexander, Sen. Fillmore stated, “This bill is not done to address concerns that people have with the content of their curriculum.”

Sen. Fillmore continued, “It’s just a process bill to ensure that school districts are involving educators and parents and being transparent as they consider what they’re going to pre-approve.” Note, he would not grant me an interview as he “already spoke to another reporter” at the Chronicle about this bill.

This worrying statement raises the question: If your constituents don’t care about it, why fight so hard? Interestingly, Sen. Fillmore previously sponsored legislation to ban teaching critical race theory in Utah schools. This whole situation reads like a dystopian nightmare — letting the masses put their hands into education while rewriting and ignoring history to better fit a more comfortable narrative.

Frankly, compared to the rest of Sen. Fillmore’s legislation, S.B. 55 stands apart. For example, S.B. 46 moves to make Diwali a state-recognized holiday. It is worth mentioning that his site places quotation marks around the word “holiday,” which strikes me as odd and off-putting. Regardless, it’s far more inclusive than his other proposed legislation, effectively banning any and all difficult conversations.

With all of the book-banning in Utah and public outcry surrounding books centering queerness, this bill feels like another way of curbing discussions of gender, sexuality and race in schools. Last year, PEN America found that 41% of banned books were LGBTQ+ related. Another forty percent contained a protagonist or prominent secondary character of color.

Lawsuits continuously affirm parental rights in education but emphasize the need for a balance. The scale has been tipping dangerously for years now, and it’s only going to get worse. For a party so against any type of governmental interference, they sure seem happy with it now.

Selectively educating children is a grave disservice to the country and to students. Bills like these have the potential to make school an unsafe place for students of color and queer students when material that pertains to them gets vetoed. It tells marginalized students that what they feel is wrong, that their history never happened.

S.B. 55 will require that any teaching materials are subject to evaluation and control by parents. It will hurt the free exchange of ideas in schools and hinder important and difficult conversations in the name of parental rights. S.B. 55 currently sits on the 2nd Reading Calendar. If this bill passes, be prepared. A mass exodus of educators is nigh.


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