Bill that addresses ‘non-approved’ teaching materials in classrooms raises questions

Feb 10, 2022, 7:14 PM

a classroom...

What has been learned about COVID-19 and school closures three years later. Photo credit: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — Does it empower teachers, or micro-manage them?  Another education bill being proposed this legislative session is raising eyebrows among teachers, with some believing it would interfere with their lessons and teaching materials.  However, the bill’s sponsor says that’s not what it does. 

Teaching materials

Teachers say they need to be flexible while leading their classrooms.  They might have their lesson plan mapped out, but the students may take their discussion to an unexpected place. And instructors may need to use other materials like videos and articles to teach that lesson. However, some of those things may not be pre-approved for academic use.  Senate Bill 114 requires that school boards make a process to approve new instructional materials for classroom use, plus they would have to give teachers better guidance on how to use those non-approved items.

Like other bills being proposed this year, SB 114 is coming under fire from educators.  The Utah Science Teachers Association issued a statement saying it’s one of a handful of bills that undermine the credibility of educators, undermine the depth of student learning and misrepresents teaching as “a collection of deliverables.”

Salt Lake Education Association President James Tobler says, between the pandemic and the 2022 legislative session, a lot of teachers feel beat up.

He said, “I’ve heard from a lot of people, saying, ‘I’m so glad this is my last year.  I’m done, and I’m out.”

According to Tobler, there are roughly 200 open positions within the Salt Lake City School District.  He says some faculty members have been asked to step in as substitutes. And some teachers have been asked to clean their own classrooms.  He believes adding more restrictions on teachers would push them over the edge.

“If we have to get approval to use material ahead of time, that’s going to be a dagger into the teaching profession and you are going to see people resign,” he said.

Bill’s sponsor says teachers wouldn’t need pre-approval

Would SB 114 require teachers to get all their last-minute teaching materials approved before they could use them?  The bill’s sponsor, Senator Lincoln Fillmore, is adamant in saying “no.”

Fillmore said, “Senate Bill 114 specifically exempts any material that a teacher chooses for use in their own class.  Those don’t need to be pre-approved by the board.”

As a former teacher, Fillmore says he understands educators need to be flexible and adapt to what they’re students need. That is why he says the bill would not “interfere” with their lesson plans.  He wrote the bill to try and make school districts more transparent in how new teaching tools could be approved.

“The district just needs to be transparent with its teachers about what its standards and expectations are,” he said.

Fillmore says what he doesn’t want is for teachers to show unapproved materials just to have their districts not support them.  For example, last December, teachers in Cache County showed a music video for the song “400 Years” during an anti-racism assembly.  After getting backlash from parents, Sky View High School Principal issued an apology, saying the video was “more divisive than unifying as it relates to race.”

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Bill that addresses ‘non-approved’ teaching materials in classrooms raises questions