Quick Takes: Arizona Teacher Speech Restrictions

Foul Language Distracts from the Purpose of Learning


Arizona teachers had better watch their mouths. A group of Republican legislators from this state are pushing new legislation that will penalize public school teachers for not complying with the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations on speech and profanity. Labeled Senate Bill 1467, the legislation will create a three-strike rule against teachers who feel the need to drop f-bombs in the classroom. 

Arizona may have a history of unusually harsh laws (SB 1070 comes to mind), but this bill was created with a purpose — legislators decided to take action after repeatedly hearing complaints about teachers using inappropriate language during school hours.

And the limits they’ve set are hardly absurd. According to the FCC, profanity is defined as any language “so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.” Clearly, the teacher misconduct already reported to the legislators posed a nuisance — this would simply regulate speech in a way that has been done since the FCC’s formation in 1934.

Regulating speech that children are regularly exposed to is not a new feat. In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser in 1986, the courts upheld the suspension of Matthew Fraser, a student who presented a “lewd” campaign speech during a student election. According to the courts, the way the speech was delivered in front of the large 600-student audience went against school values. Undoubtedly, this case will be brought up in deciding SB 1467. 

The classroom is a place for children to learn — profanity and obscene language, when spoken as expletives, are merely distractions. If regulations can be placed on television, which children watch in their spare time, it isn’t unreasonable to place similar regulations on teachers working during federally mandated hours.  

Margaret Yau
Managing Editor

Ambiguity of Measure Violates Teachers’ Free Speech

A group of Arizonan Republican lawmakers is backing legislation that could cost public school teachers their jobs if their speech doesn’t comply with Federal Communications Commission standards for TV and radio, which includes the f-word and more moderate terms such as “shit.” Senate Bill 1467 is so poorly written that it infringes on teachers’ First Amendment rights by theoretically controlling anything a teacher says both on and off school property. 

The proposed penalties range from a one-week suspension for the first violation, to being fired after the third violation. The bill allows teachers to be fired for a first or second incident if the school finds that this punishment is deserved. Most notably, the restrictions apply to any public school program from pre-school to public universities.

The ambiguity of the measure’s wording infringes on teachers’ free speech rights. The bill says penalties apply to “[people who provide]classroom instruction in a public school,” but fails to specifically state that profanities cannot be heard in the classroom. The bill hypothetically limits teachers’ language in private emails, conversations with colleagues and even in teachers’ own homes. As an added punch, the wording of this bill can even prevent teachers from teaching classic literature that contains inappropriate language usage. 

 Schools already have vast jurisdiction over what can be said on school grounds, as seen in past court rulings such as Bethel School District No. 403 v. Frasier. On top of the impracticality of regulating these restrictions, bringing this issue to the state level would unnecessarily complicate matters. 

The bill is too poorly written, and clearly becomes too intrusive regarding what teachers can say, and when.

Aleks levin
Staff Writer


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