PHOENIX — A state lawmaker from Pinal County wants schools to teach students less about dating — but tighten up laws that require them to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
And he also wants to end “social promotion.”
Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, is proposing to repeal a state law that now allows — but does not require — schools to provide “age-appropriate” instruction into dating abuse, with HB 2005 replacing it with an outright ban.
Fillmore is vice chairman of the House Education Committee. He represents Legislative District 16, which includes Apache Junction, Gold Canyon and San Tan Valley in Pinal County.
“I just don’t believe, based upon conversations I’ve had, that the schools should necessarily be dealing with high school dating amongst the students when they should be dealing more with the reading, writing and arithmetic,” he told Capitol Media Services on Wednesday.
Arizona is one of several states that has laws aimed at “dating abuse,” defined as a pattern of behavior in which one person threatens to use physical, sexual, verbal or emotion abuse to control that person’s dating partner. And the law says that category of “dating partner” can include everything from casual to serious and long-term relationships.
The U.S. Department of Education reports that one in three U.S. teens between 14 and 20 have been the victims of dating violence. About the same number, the agency reports, have committed relationship violence themselves.
More specifically, nationwide one out of eight girls in grades 9 through 12 have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to. And 42% of female rape victims were first raped before the age of 18.
Another study cited by the U.S. Department of Education from 2009 found that fully a quarter of sixth graders thought it was acceptable for boys to hit their girlfriends.
What makes the issue critical, according to the federal agency, is that there is a link between this kind of violence and academic performance. The research cited also says that teen victims of dating violence are more likely than non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in risky sexual behaviors or attempt or consider suicide.
“I don’t know what other states have done,” Fillmore said. “I don’t really care.”
He said he sees efforts like that as “social engineering” at the expense of academics. The result, he said, is “the kids are not going to be able to fend for themselves in society.”
That plugs in to Fillmore’s decision to sponsor HB 2013.
Current law allows local school boards to authorize teachers to make the final decision whether to promote or retain a pupil in grade schools or to pass or fail a student in high school.
Fillmore proposes to repeal that, replacing it with a requirement for teachers to retain pupils in grade schools and to fail high school students if they do not meet the academic standards adopted by the state Board of Education.
He said there are schools in which only a small percentage of students are testing as proficient in reading, math and science.
“But the same school has an 85 and 87% graduation rate, I’m thinking to myself those kids are not prepared to go out into society and fend for themselves,” Fillmore said.
And then there’s the question of student activities at the beginning of each day.
Under current law, school districts must set aside a specific time each day for “students who wish” to recite the pledge.
Fillmore’s HB 2107 removes that language, saying pupils “shall recite the Pledge of Allegiance” during this time. The only way out is for a parent to make a request to excuse his or her child.
“Patriotism is a good thing in America,” he said. “The love of our country and our free enterprise system I think is something the kids should understand and respect.”
But HB 2017 has something more.
It would add a requirement that schools set aside a specific time each day “for pupils to engage in quiet reflect and moral reasoning for at least one minute.” Here, too, there is a mandate for students to participate unless a parent seeks an exemption.
“A moment of private reflection is good for everybody,” Fillmore said. “I know that I’ve been told in my life I need more of that.”
Fillmore also has crafted a variety of other education-related bills for the new legislative session that begins in January, including:
- requiring school boards to develop procedures allowing a teacher to refuse to readmit a pupil who was removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons;
- giving teachers legal immunity for disciplining any student if it was done “in accordance with the law;”
- imposing a fine of up to $10 a day on parents whose children are “habitually truant;”
- removing a requirement that schools that provide environmental education program include a discussion of “economic and social implications;”
- mandating the state Board of Education to require schools to offer a course in personal finance, something that is now only an option.