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Utah House votes down bill banning Pride flags in classrooms

Jeff Stenquist utah LGBTQ progress pride flags school building
facebook @ElectJeffStenquist; Shutterstock

Detractors said the bill was vaguely worded and violated the rights of teachers.

A bill that detractors warned could have banned nearly all non-neutral classroom expression, including the display of Pride flags and discussion of one’s sexual and gender identity, went down to bipartisan defeat in the Republican-dominated Utah House of Representatives on Monday.

The bill, H.B. 303 entitled School Curriculum Requirement, was introduced by the chief sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jeff Stenquist of Draper in District 46, and state Sen. Michael S. Kennedy, a fellow Republican representing Linden in District 21.

Stenquist said the bill sought to eliminate personal expression on sensitive topics by teachers so they could focus instead on instructing students, but detractors said the bill was vague and poorly worded. The bill was defeated in a 39-32 vote with four abstentions.

“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,” Stenquist told KSL in January. “Classroom should not be a forum to advocate for your political, you know, ideology that you might have.”

He went on to say the goal of the bill was to provide clear guidelines for educators on sensitive topics.

“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 told KSL.

Detractors, however, questioned both the bill’s intent and legality.

“This bill aims to overregulate classroom discussion,” Ellie Menlove, legislative and policy counsel, ACLU Utah, said in testimony given on February 16 in opposition to the bill. “It will undermine the First Amendment rights of teachers, forcing them to police their speech in response to common student questions related to political and social issues.”

Earlier this month, the state’s Republican Gov. Spencer J. Cox signed a resolution last week condemning and censuring the state school board member who shared a picture of a girls’ basketball team on social media and implied one of the athletes was transgender. The board of education also voted to strip the board member, Natalie Cline, of her official powers and ask for her immediate resignation. The Utah State Board of Education earlier had voted to strip Cline of her duties as a board member and called on her to resign over the incident.

In January, the state’s transgender bathroom ban was officially signed into law just days after state lawmakers pushed the legislation through. H.B. 257 changed the state’s legal definitions of “female” and “male,” defining the terms based solely on one’s reproductive organs, and defining a “women’s bathroom” and “men’s bathroom” as spaces exclusively designated for females and males, respectively.

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