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Proposed bill aims to boost parental rights regarding student information

Posted at 10:56 PM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 00:56:14-05

PHOENIX — One education-related bill under review by the Arizona House aims to give parents more access to information about their children.

But, the proposed legislation is also the subject of plenty of controversies.

Republican Representative Steve Kaiser is the sponsor of HB2161. The bill would require a school employee to tell a student's parents anything the child discloses in confidence regarding their physical, emotional, or mental health. Kaiser believes his legislation is needed to give parents more access to information about their kids.

"It gives actual teeth to parents that want to see a difference in their school," said Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, sponsor of the bill.

If a teacher refuses to disclose information, the bill would allow a parent to make a complaint which could lead to fines, dismissals, or suspension. A parent could even file a lawsuit if they don't feel the incident is resolved.

Teen Lifeline, an organization that helps youth in crisis, disagrees with Kaiser's idea.

"I just, again, worry about all of those kids that don't have loving, supporting homes and the risk that we're putting them in. Or, just the fact that everyone has a sense of privacy," Nikki Kontz, clinical director for Teen Lifeline, said.

Democrats also pushed back during Tuesday's hearing, including Rep. Pamela Powers-Hannley.

"I think it vilifies teachers. We already have a teacher shortage in this state, and this would drive teachers away from the profession," says Rep. Powers-Hannley.

Another part of the bill which was the subject of significant controversy was amended to be removed from the bill during Tuesday's session.

The now-removed provision would have compelled teachers to tell parents about issues related to a student's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Although the provision was removed, Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler believes there might still be a loophole.

"Wouldn't it still fall in the mental health portion that still remains in the bill, because all a parent would have to say is 'it harmed my students' mental health and you didn't tell me?,'" asked Rep. Butler.

The reporting of child abuse was also clarified after some confusion.

"For two generations, we've told our children to tell a trusted adult when they're being abused and now, that trusted adult is going to be legally obligated to potentially tell the abuser," said Rep. Jennifer Jermaine.

Representative Kaiser says in those cases where the teacher suspects the child is being abused by a parent, their duty is to report to the proper law enforcement agency.

The bill remains under review by the Arizona House and has yet to be sent to the state Senate.