ACLU UT's Ellie Menlove Testified Against H.B. 303

Read testimony from Ellie Menlove, Legislative and Policy Counsel, opposing H.B. 303 (School Curriculum Requirements)

My name is Ellie Menlove and I am the Legislative and Policy Counsel at the ACLU of Utah. We oppose HB303 as it poses First Amendment concerns and remains unworkably vague after falling to advance through interim committee in November.

This bill aims to overregulate classroom discussion. 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. For example, a student could come to a teacher for guidance after being bullied by their classmates for their religious beliefs or having same-sex parents.

We disagree with the sponsor and believe that this bill would make it harder for the teacher to make their classroom a safe space for that student in these situations, limiting their ability to comfort and reassure that student. Teachers should not feel like one wrong comment in the classroom could land them in legal trouble.

Likewise, the bill treads on teachers’ First Amendment rights by prohibiting the display of symbols in the classroom, like Pride flags and other symbols of safe spaces for LGBTQ students. Regardless of the intent of the bill, the practical effect will be the removal of any acknowledgement and support for LGTBQ students or students that come from LGTBQ families in public schools.

Lastly, as noted by other legislators, the bill remains vague and does not sufficiently distinguish between political speech and personal belief. Would a teacher be able to display a flag that is both relevant to the curriculum and political news at the time, for example the Ukrainian or Israeli flag now? School districts should not be put in the position of determining the difference between the two on a case-by-case basis.

For these reasons, the ACLU urges you to vote against advancing this bill out of the committee.