This belongs in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category.
Kareem Neal is Arizona’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, honored in October for his work at Phoenix’s Maryvale High School, where he is a special-education educator for students who have moderate to severe disabilities. Neal, who is in his 22nd year as an educator, teaches community-based training, which is designed to help his students become as independent and productive as they can at home, in school and around their communities.
The Phoenix Union High School District disciplined Neal because he had posted in his classroom a sign supporting #InvestInEd, which was an initiative for an education tax to raise new money for public schools that was initially placed on November’s ballot but removed by the state Supreme Court before the election. Teachers are not supposed to advocate for any political cause, though Neal said that wasn’t his intent, the Arizona Republic reported.
The initiative came out of the #RedForEd teachers protest movement earlier in the year, when educators in a number of mostly Republican-led states, including Arizona, went on strike to demand higher salaries and more funding for their resource-starved schools.
The newspaper said the school district suspended Neal for a day without pay and fined him $225, what it would cost to rent his classroom for five days, the length of time the sign was posted. Officials said he was fined because teachers are not allowed to advocate for political causes.
The Republic said Neal told the district that he had posted the sign, along with other signs, to cover up his classroom window to try to keep his easily distracted students focused on their work — not as a political message. He was suspended and fined anyway.
Neal wasn’t the only teacher to be punished for #InvestInEd. Resha Gentry-Ballance, who is president of the teachers union in the district, was fined $592.83 for mentioning the tax initiative while speaking to district employees.
How did district officials find out about Neal and Gentry-Ballance? The Republic reported that they apparently learned from a complaint filed by a woman named Julie Brown, who is not a district parent but an advocate of #PurpleForParents, which opposed #RedForEd.
It’s worth remembering that #InvestInEd was an initiative to raise more money for public schools, whose budgets have been slashed in recent years by lawmakers. The Arizona Supreme Court knocked it off the ballot because, the justices said, the language about a tax increase was ambiguous.
It’s also worth noting this, from the Republic, on the Supreme Court’s ruling:
The opinion has raised questions over the independence of Arizona’s judicial branch. Last month, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s campaign staff told 12 News reporter Brahm Resnik the vote was 5-2 a day after the ruling [but before it was made public]. Now the opinion has confirmed that vote tally.
A court spokesman said an internal inquiry found no evidence of the justices disclosing the tally before the opinion was released.