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Arizona launches hotline for public to report ‘inappropriate’ school lessons

Education advocates disagree about Arizona?s results-based school-funding formula. Mark Henle/The Republic Education advocates disagree about Arizona's results-based school funding formula. Some say it helps schools improve and then spread that success. Others say it fails to help students get access to better schools. Arizona voters are set to decide on Proposition 305. Classroom

(CNN) — Arizona’s top education official launched a hotline this week for state residents to report K-12 class curriculum and lessons that they deem “inappropriate,” the Arizona Department of Education said in a press release.

Championed by state Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Horne, the “Empower Hotline” allows residents to voice their concerns about classroom materials that “detract from teaching standards,” including lessons that “focus on race or ethnicity rather than individuals and merit, promote gender ideology and social emotional learning,” the department said.

Horne, a Republican, unseated the Democratic incumbent last fall, running on a campaign platform of “fighting critical race theory” and stopping the “liberal indoctrination” of schoolchildren, according to his campaign website. He previously served two terms in the position from 2003 to 2011 and as Arizona attorney general from 2011 to 2015.

“I promised to establish this hotline so that anyone could report the teaching of inappropriate lessons that rob students of precious minutes of instruction time in core academic subjects such as reading, math, science, history and the arts. That promise is being kept,” Horne said in the press release.

Horne’s agenda has been criticized for placing unnecessary emphasis on political issues, instead of focusing on other needs such as adding more mental health services for students and trimming class sizes.

Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, told CNN she was “disappointed” that Horne hasn’t worked to “get a grasp of what was going on” in Arizona schools but instead has pushed policies based on what she called “outlandish claims that he had been repeating during the campaign.”

Garcia, who also teaches eighth grade social studies, said she won’t change her curriculum because of the hotline but is afraid inexperienced teachers will alter their classes due to political pressure.

This isn’t the first instance of Arizona GOP lawmakers attempting to curb critical race theory, which the Arizona Department of Education defines loosely as “an ideology that can wear many different labels.” In 2021, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law prohibiting teachings that “blame or judge on the basis of race,” but the law was later struck down by the state Supreme Court.

Most recently, a bill sponsored by Arizona GOP lawmakers to restrict classroom lessons on race and ethnicity was vetoed Thursday by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

This follows a push from conservative politicians across the country to curb critical race theory and classroom curriculum that teaches about race and ethnicity through the lens of power and privilege.

Critical race theory is based on the premise that racism is systemic in American society. According to CRT, racism is more than the result of individual prejudice; it is baked into institutions, laws and policies, and this creates and maintains racial inequities.

In January 2022, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia launched an email tip line for parents to report concerns about “divisive concepts” being taught in the classroom. He also issued an executive order banning critical race theory from being part of the public school curriculum, even though it wasn’t included in Virginia’s standards of learning.

The tip line was eventually shuttered in September 2022. In the emails reviewed by CNN, there were concerns about institutionalized racism, mask wearing in schools, a back-and-forth about math curriculum and one woman who said she wanted to flood the tip line with positive comments.