Talk of some political beliefs in Utah schools limited with this proposed bill

Jan 19, 2024, 2:00 PM

cellphone schools...

Sixth grade students listen to their teacher during Utah studies class at Evergreen Junior High School in Millcreek on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, R-Salt Lake, is sponsoring HB 303, which would prohibit school officials from discussing political beliefs in Utah schools. 

“This bill amends provisions that prohibit school officials and employees from endorsing, promoting, or disparaging certain beliefs or viewpoints.” — an excerpt from HB 303

Stenquist told KSL NewsRadio that the bill targets public K-12 schools. Currently, without this amendment, Stenquist says there are not many guidelines as to what school officials can share. 

What are the current guidelines for discussing political beliefs in Utah schools?

“Right now there’s really not a lot of guidelines some school districts have different policies depending on the school district around what is allowed in the classrooms,” he said. 

Furthermore, Stenquist says after meeting with various school districts and charter schools it’s clear there are some questions surrounding what legal authority they have to limit certain discussions in the classroom.

“As I’ve met with different school districts and charter schools and others there seems to be some inconsistency as well as some difficulty sometimes enforcing the policy.”

According to Stenquist, one specific incident prompted the creation of HB 303. 

A constituent, who teaches in a first-grade classroom, was concerned about the discussions surrounding political beliefs in her Utah school’s classroom. 

“She felt that it was kind of inappropriate and when she took her concerns to the principals of the school district, she felt that those concerns weren’t really heard and addressed,” Stenquist explained. 

What is the purpose of the bill? 

The bill would establish clear guidelines and policies so there’s no confusion surrounding what can and cannot be discussed.

Furthermore, the bill would help eliminate situations where concerns are expressed and not addressed. 

“There will be clear guidelines, clear policies, and also an additional mechanism in working with the state school board,” said Stenquist. “That third-party auditor could come in and evaluate the situation.”

Meaning, that school districts should have a clear policy of political neutrality. And a third-party auditor will review complaints brought forward. 

Stenquist said that everyone has a right to their political belief, however, Utah’s schools and classrooms should not be a place to share your stance. 

“You know, I think that the key part of this is that we don’t want our classrooms to be a battleground for divisive political discussions,” he said. “Classroom should not be a forum to advocate for your political, you know, ideology that you might have.”

What the bill says

In summary, the bill says it prevents school officials and employees from “endorsing, promoting, or disparaging” beliefs regarding politics, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation. It also says school officials and employees cannot “invite, suggest, or encourage a student to reconsider or change the student’s” for those same topics.

Nothing in the bill prevents school employees and staff from “wearing religious clothing or accessories that are central to the individual’s sincerely held religious belief.”

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Talk of some political beliefs in Utah schools limited with this proposed bill