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Demonstration highlights groups’ support for public education, educators

By Harrison Epstein - Daily Herald | Feb 14, 2022
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People hold signs in support of teachers at a rally for public education held at the Utah State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.
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Clearfield High School alum Carter Coleman speaks at a rally for public education held at the Utah State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.
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People hold signs in support of teachers at a rally for public education held at the Utah State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.
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The valentine card mailed to librarians throughout Utah.
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John Arthur, the 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year, speaks at a rally for public education held at the Utah State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.
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State Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, speaks at a rally for public education held at the Utah State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.

On Monday, 1,347 librarians across the state will receive Valentine’s Day cards thanking them for everything they do.

The plan started in December when Genevra Prothero, a parent in the Davis School District, had an idea to send Christmas cards to the librarians, but with little time to get everything done, a suggestion from Frank Brannan had everyone zero in on Valentine’s Day. It took 15 volunteers to hand-sign each card. “It’s a dedicated effort,” Brannan said.

Originally, the plan was to send cards to every public school librarian, but once the ball was rolling they added charter school, private school and public librarians to the mailing list.

Each member of the various organizations behind the cards did so because of a belief that reading is key for children, that they should be able to find and discover the right books for themselves.

On Saturday, the group responsible for the cards — along with teachers, parents and elected officials — took to the Utah State Capitol’s steps for a rally in support of public education.

Coming up from Provo for the rally was Rep. Marsha Judkins. The Republican legislator, and former member of the Provo City School Board, brought laughs to the crowd by remarking that her presence showed bipartisan support for public education.

The legislative session itself has been deeply focused on education and schools from the get-go.

Without singling out any individual bill, Judkins said, “Some of the bills that have come out felt like a real slap to our educators.”

She mentioned a poll she ran of constituents which showed more support in her district, which covers part of Provo, for education funding than the recently passed passed tax cut. She also mentioned concern of a recently introduced bill that would go toward creating a school voucher program. House Bill 331, she worries, could have “unintended consequences.”

Vouchers have a storied history in Utah, having been passed by the Legislature in 2007 before being overturned by voters.

“It’s a complicated enough bill that we really need to educate ourselves on it and ask the hard questions … ‘How is this going to affect into the future?'” Judkins added that there are parts of the bill that have merit — namely, regarding home schooling.

While saying that providing funding for parents who are home-schooling their children is worth considering, she added that there needs to then be accountability.

Conversations around the roles teachers play and the public school system are happening at every level, across the country.

A school board in Tennessee became subject of national discussion after a decision to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus,” which depicts the Holocaust through cats and mice.

In November, Canyons School District in Sandy pulled nine books from shelves after parent complaints. All of the books included discussion around racism, sex and LGBT issues.

On Friday, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, introduced HB 374, called “Sensitive Materials in Schools,” which would prohibit schools from having materials considered to include sexual content or obscene language.

It would also allow for parents to sue educational agencies, school boards or schools, if a parent alleges a violation and the sensitive material is not removed from the school.

One of the first bills to make it to the governor’s desk during the legislative session wrestled the decision to have schools move into “Test to Stay” protocols away from school boards and health departments and to the Legislature.

Conversations were direct, pointing to a red piece of paper with a list of bills to oppose and green paper with bills to support, and broad about the value of public education — about what a teacher means in the lives of students, the role of special education and the differences in lives made by individual teachers.

While Saturday’s rally was led by educators and advocates, there were a few students who took to the Capitol steps. The first, a third grader from Cache County, had a straightforward message — “I love public education because I love my teacher so so much.”

The other was Carter Coleman, a 2019 graduate of Clearfield High School. Coleman told the story of his creative writing teacher, Lorin Harris, someone who he said made an impact by caring about, and connecting with, students.

“Mr. Harris saw and understood that a lot of his students would enter this class hurting. A lot of them looked for a release through writing,” Coleman said. “He created this atmosphere, this place, where every student felt safe. Every student felt like they meant something and that they could come to this classroom and feel free. I’m grateful I was able to have his class.”

Groups associated with mailing the Valentine’s Day cards include Shirley the Librarian, Utah Citizens for Positive Change, Murray Equity Alliance, Utah Educational Equity Discussion Group, Equity in Education Cache County, 1Utah Project and CD4 Coalition.

Also speaking at the rally were Reps. Carol Moss and Elizabeth Weight, both Democrats from Salt Lake, and Sen. Kathleen Riebe of Cottonwood Heights, all three of whom shared the same message with Judkins and the other speakers — that the most important thing people can do is get involved in classrooms, on school boards and in government.

“If you’re here today, you are eligible to run for office. You’ve been called to office,” Riebe said. “If you’re here today, you are taking the first step in running.”

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