Arizona Teacher of the Year Suspended for Political Speech in the Classroom

In October, teacher Kareem Neal named Arizona’s Teacher of the Year for 2019. Neal is a special-education teacher working with students who have severe to moderate disabilities, helping them to become independent and productive in their communities.

However, according to the Washington Posthe has now been disciplined by the The Phoenix Union High School District for posting a sign in his classroom reading #InvestInEd. This was a campaign to raise taxes that would benefit public schools and was initially meant to be on Arizona’s ballot in November, but was removed by the Supreme Court before election day due to ambiguity in the language.

Neal said that he didn’t intend for the sign to be political speech, he simply wanted to cover the windows in his classroom to reduce distractions. Apparently, Neal has no apolitical posters to share with the students. He was suspended for one day and fined $225, what it would cost for him to rent the classroom for the five days the sign was posted in his classroom.

Craig Pletenik, district spokeman, told AZ Central:

Phoenix Union has worked closely with the Attorney General’s Office to address and resolve this issue. We have come up with an appropriate resolution, including future directives for improvement, and that office has been satisfied and supportive with our response.

Julie Brown, who is involved in the #PurpleForParents campaign on the other side of the issue, filed the official complaint. While she is not a parent in this school district, she says that she was led to file the complaint after hearing from parents whose children did attend these schools, although she declined to name the students.

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman with the Attorney General’s Office, said that there has been a “spike” in these kinds of complaints, but most don’t violate state law. However, because the sign was hung while #InvestInEd was still on the ballot, this was considered political activity.

Brown said:

You can’t start bringing your political agenda into schools and that’s what’s happening. To finally have something tangible where the attorney general studied this … it’s kind of a big move.

Neal seems like a good person doing great work, but political speech can not be allowed in the classroom. School districts need to take a stand, regardless of who the teacher is. Time to get some of those “Hang in There” kitten posters we had to stare at back in our day.