Teacher Says Arizona Wants Him Muzzled | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Teacher Says Arizona Wants Him Muzzled

PHOENIX (CN) - The Arizona Department of Education retaliated against a fifth-grade teacher for criticizing Common Core education standards in a newspaper column and on the radio, he claims in court.

Brad McQueen, a teacher in the Tanque Verde Unified School District in Tucson, sued Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal on Tuesday in Maricopa County Court.

McQueen says he was not invited to serve on a number of committees empanelled by the Arizona Department of Education's Assessment Department after the Arizona Daily Independent published a column he wrote in February discussing his concerns with Common Core standards. McQueen also spoke out against the initiative on a Tucson radio station.

"The more I learned about the Common Core, the more concerned I became," McQueen said in a statement. "But I had no idea that voicing my opinion on my own time and as a private citizen would cause me to be targeted by the department. I was shocked."

Common Core is an educational standard detailing what students from kindergarten through 12th grade should know in math and English language arts by the end of each school year. In Arizona, the initiative is known as Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards.

According to the lawsuit, directors in the agency's assessment department and employees exchanged a series of emails after McQueen publicly voiced his concerns, referring to McQueen as an "unhappy camper" and "a f*cktard."

Irene Hunting, a department employee, wrote that she made a note of McQueen's actions in his record, and Sarah Gardner, director of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Innovative Assessments, said that the department may want to remove McQueen from any departmental committees, according to the complaint.

"Given that Brad McQueen gave a negative statement to the press about Common Core and assessment, you may want to remove him from the invitation list," Gardner allegedly wrote in an email.

McQueen claims he learned later that he was not asked to work over the summer on any committees for the Department of Education. In previous summers he made an additional $1,105 or $985 working on the committees.

"Teachers are on the front lines implementing the school policies adopted by the government. It is critical that their ability to speak out publicly about those policies is protected," McQueen's attorney Kurt Altman, at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, said in a statement.

"No teacher should have to worry about losing his job or being forced out of other professional roles because he disagrees with a policy. We should be doing the opposite; we should encourage teachers to tell us what is and is not working in the classroom as policies are being developed and implemented."

The lawsuit states that Huppenthal, a Republican, knew of his employees' emails and disparaged McQueen when Huppenthal was campaigning for re-election. Huppenthal lost in the primaries to Diane Douglas, who then beat David Garcia, a Democrat, in the November election.

Douglas, a former Peoria Unified School District board member, won after a campaign against Common Core without receiving the majority of votes in Arizona's most populous counties - Maricopa and Pima. A political action committee has since been formed with the intent to recall Douglas after she has held office for six months, as required by state law.

McQueen seeks an injunction prohibiting the state from excluding him from committees on which he is qualified to serve, declaratory judgment that the state violated his civil rights, and removal of any reference to his public comments from his employment record.

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