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'Empower Hotline' gets 2,600 reports in nearly a week, Arizona Dept. of Education says

The hotline allows parents to report educational topics they disapprove of for their children in Arizona.

PHOENIX — No more than half a dozen reports are being investigated by the Arizona Department of Education after it launched the “Empower Hotline” nearly a week ago.

The hotline allows parents to report their child’s teacher if they disapprove of a lesson being taught at their school, focusing on “inappropriate lessons that detract from teaching academic standards such as those that focus on race or ethnicity, rather than individuals and merit, promoting gender ideology, social-emotional learning, or inappropriate sexual content,” the department said

Since Thursday, the department tells 12News it has received approximately 2,000 emails and about 600 calls or voice messages.

Most of the calls have been general complaints not related to the purpose of the hotline and others “are simply profane,” the department said.

One of the reports received alleges a teacher was preaching the gospel to students; the department told 12News. Another reported a sex crime that involved a minor, which they said was forwarded to law enforcement.

“The volume of inappropriate [reports] makes it far more difficult for the department to refer legitimate potential criminal allegations to law enforcement,” the department said.

“It’s time to get people to focus on teaching the academics,” Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne said. “Focus on the academics and stop the distractions.”

Educators protest hotline

Nearly a week into its launch, Arizona educators protested the hotline on Wednesday.

A large group marched from the Capitol to the Department of Education building. They chanted and held a sign that read “Stop the Attacks.”

“How many here have talked to a parent from their classroom this week?” asked Marisol Garcia, “We talk to them all the time.”

Garcia is the President of the Arizona Education Association. She said the hotline is unnecessary because parents already had other avenues to communicate with their student’s parents, such as during school hours or school board meetings.

“There isn’t this huge majority of parents that are struggling with communicating with teachers,” Garcia said. “It’s a small minority who have decided this was going to be a political issue and it’s enough of that. Superintendent Horne has been negative, disrespectful, calling out teachers and almost creating more of a division among students, parents, and their teachers.”

She said the hotline will affect teacher retention even more, on top of the current low staffing levels.

Ashley Gee, a Chandler Unified School District PE teacher, who has been teaching for 15 years, is reconsidering.

“I always thought I’d be 30 years in education, retiring and now I’m just like ‘I don’t know if I can do it,’” Gee said.

Doug Nick, spokesperson at the Arizona Department of Education said they have a dedicated staffer who answers the hotline “who does not work in constituent services despite an assertion to the contrary.”

One investigator handles the claims, and no staff has been redirected from other duties, Nick said.

In regard to the Arizona Education Association’s effort Wednesday, Horne issued the following statement:

“Parents have a legitimate interest in the education of their children. The Empower Hotline gives parents a chance to communicate with the Department of Education and that is a good thing.”

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