Discipline of teachers best handled at local level

A lawmaker in Arizona, however, wants the state to make rules banning foul language by teachers.

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The education system isn't perfect. And we have no qualms about efforts by state lawmakers to boost performance in the classroom by setting high standards.

But we do have serious concerns about an proposal in Arizona aimed at punishing teachers for using language deemed inappropriate according to the profanity guidelines used by the Federal Communications Commission.

If this is a widespread problem -- which we doubt it is -- then it should be handled by local school administrators and local school board members using common sense. Once state lawmakers in Arizona or elsewhere become involved in trying to micro-manage school rules, decisions are too often driven by partisan and personal politics.

Yet, Arizona state Sen. Lori Klein introduced the legislation because a parent in her district complained about a high school teacher using foul language -- he apparently dropped the F-bomb and used other salty words in class. Under the proposal, a teacher whose speech or conduct violates FCC regulations would receive a warning, and after three incidents, the teacher would face a week of suspension without pay. A teacher would be fired after the fifth offense.

We aren't arguing that using foul language is appropriate in a classroom. Nor do we think two warnings is harsh.

But most local school districts across the country have professional conduct policies that ban the use of profanity.

That's as it should be.

Any discipline of teachers (or any local school employees) should be handled at the local level by those who have first-hand knowledge of the situation and who are in a position to grasp the context in which the offending words were spoken.

Ironically, the FCC makes exceptions to its offensive-language rules based on context. That's not going to happen as a rule made by legislative fiat winds its way through the layers of state government.

The Associated Press reported that Kelly Parrish, an English teacher at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, feels state restrictions could cause trouble when the curriculum is not "G-rated," she said. Words that the FCC would not allow on television or radio can come up while discussing literature, such as racial slurs in "To Kill a Mockingbird," she said.

Exactly. Context is critical.

Arizona lawmakers should back off and leave teacher discipline to local elected officials and local school administrators.

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