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Political ban for school staff

Published (3/30/2012)
By Erin Schmidtke
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Public school employees may be banned from using district resources to promote any political candidate or cause.

The House passed HF329 March 28, which seeks to prohibit staff from using technology, time, equipment and materials owned by the school for political activity. Rep. Kurt Bills (R-Rosemount) sponsors the measure, which would still allow teachers to disseminate factual information to students.

Following the 73-60 vote, the bill next goes to the Senate, where Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) is the sponsor.

Bills said teachers in some Minnesota districts have incorporated their personal opinions into the classroom, with the intent to influence students. He added that the bill would not completely prohibit teachers from expressing their political views, but it would not allow them to do so in an “official capacity.”

House Republicans voiced approval for the bill, calling it an appropriate step in ensuring proper use of resources funded by taxpayers.

“It doesn’t throttle the ability of teachers to discuss issues in their classrooms. They just can’t advocate for one position or another,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville).

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would extend the ban to corporations, who would be unable to make independent political expenditures. The speaker ruled his amendment out of order.

Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) worried that the bill would create a chilling effect on schools. He added that open political conversations in schools are beneficial to students.

“Our schools have lifted more people out of poverty than any other institution in this country. And it’s a free flow of ideas and the discourse that allows everyone the opportunity of self expression,” Anzelc said.

The bill also received criticism from Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), who accused Republicans of unfairly attacking public school employees, while leaving others who receive state funds untouched.

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