Proposed Ballot Measure Would Adopt Far-Right Group's Teacher Code of Ethics

Participants in the #RedForEd protest last spring.
Participants in the #RedForEd protest last spring. Zee Peralta
State Representative Mark Finchem failed this year to implement a teacher code of ethics that appeared to have been lifted directly from a far-right campaign.

Finchem's bill, HB 2002, did not get a hearing after Phoenix New Times reported that the language of his legislation was eerily similar to a code of ethics proposed by the far-right, anti-Muslim David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Now a group wants to put the same code of ethics, though with a few tweaks, on the 2020 ballot.

Last month, a new political action committee — YES for a Classroom Code of Ethics — applied with the Arizona Secretary of State for a serial number to begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure. The group needs 237,645 signatures by July 2, 2020, to qualify.

The committee is led by Catherine Barrett, a former #RedForEd leader who left the group under mysterious circumstances before switching sides and becoming a stalwart supporter for Governor Doug Ducey. Barrett did not answer calls or emails seeking comment.

The Freedom Center, whose code of ethics served as a model for Barrett's PAC, is headed by David Horowitz. The nonprofit leader has said that "Palestinians are Nazis," that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and that the United States is "trapped in the melodrama of black victimization."

click to enlarge Catherine Barrett - TEAM DUCEY/TWITTER
Catherine Barrett
Team Ducey/Twitter
Like Finchem's bill, Barrett's teacher code of ethics includes nine restrictions on teachers that mirror a list proposed by Stop K-12 Indoctrination, a project of the Freedom Center. For instance, both proposals would make it a violation of the code to "endorse, support or oppose any candidate or nominee for public office."

Both codes also include a weirdly specific rule prohibiting teachers from segregating "students according to race" or singling "out one racial group of students in a classroom."

The proposed ballot measure, however, includes new provisions unseen in Finchem's bill or the Stop K-12 Indoctrination website. Barrett's measure spells out punishments for teachers who violate the code.

The first offense would lead to a warning that would stay in an employment file for one year. A second offense would lead to a 30-day suspension.

Barrett's proposal also includes a special carve-out for advocacy for politicians "whose candidacy ended 50 or more years prior to the effective date of this act." The same would apply to legislation enacted 50 years ago and political parties that have been defunct for at least half a century.

Presumably that would allow teachers to opine on the presidential campaigns of Teddy Roosevelt, but not Ronald Reagan. They could pledge their support for the Whigs, but not for Republicans.

#RedForEd leaders criticized the code of ethics when Finchem attempted to get it through the Legislature, claiming it was a distraction from the issue of teacher pay and working conditions. Arizona law already prohibits the use school funds or employees to influence elections.

Finchem did not respond to a request for comment on whether he is involved with the ballot measure campaign.
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh