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Ariz. bill aims to make teachers' speech comply with FCC rules

Cussing in Arizona public schools could cost teachers their jobs if a bill sponsored by a group of five Republican lawmakers is passed.

The bill would require teachers to limit their speech to language compliant with Federal Communications Commission regulations on what can be said on TV or radio.

Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, is the main sponsor of Senate Bill 1467, which establishes a three strikes penalty system for anyone teaching in a public school who violates the FCC standards.

Msnbc.com could not reach Sen. Klein on Monday, either by phone or email. Klein told azcentral.com the bill stems from constituent complaints about teachers in local high schools using “inappropriate language” in front of students.


"Students are young and impressionable and teachers should not be using four-letter words in the classroom," Klein said.

FCC regulations limit obscene, indecent and profane speech, and have defined profanity as “including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”

Penalties would range from a one-week suspension without compensation for a first offense to being fired for a third offense.

According to the bill, a school may even fire a teacher after the first or second occurrence. The bill applies to any public pre-school program, K-12 school, vocational education program, community college or university in Arizona.

“That is really problematic,” David Hudson of the First Amendment Center told msnbc.com. There are “serious First Amendment problems with it, serious academic freedom violations.”

Hudson said the bill is “ridiculously overbroad,” “unnecessary” and “unconstitutional.” The bill would limit teachers’ language wherever they are, whether in the classroom or the teachers’ lounge.

“I would be stunned if that bill passes,” he said.

Hudson said that controlling the language in classrooms should be the schools’ responsibility. He is not aware of similar sets of regulations elsewhere in the United States.

The Senate Education Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing for the bill.

Profanity is not always protected under the First Amendment, and public schools have vast discretion in controlling what type of language can be spoken on school grounds.

In the 1986 case of Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, the Bethel School District in Spanaway, Wash., suspended 17-year-old Matthew Fraser for two days after what was deemed a lewd spring election campaign speech at a school assembly with 600 students present. His candidate won.

The courts held that the delivery of the speech in front of an engaged audience was disruptive and contrary to the values the school intended to promote. Hudson said this case is sometimes used as a precedent in dealing with public school teachers using profane language in classrooms.

Chief Justice Warren Burger delivered the opinion of the Court: “The undoubted freedom to advocate unpopular and controversial views in schools and classrooms must be balanced against the society's countervailing interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior.”

The Arizona Education Association could not be reached for comment.

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