With election season in full swing, it is important for district and charter school employees to know how Arizona law determines what they can and cannot do when campaigning for or supporting candidates, bonds/overrides, and/or proposed legislation.
Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) §15-511 states that a person acting on behalf of a school district or charter school may not use school district or charter school resources to influence the outcome of an election. Additionally, employees acting as agents of the district or charter school or working in an official capacity for either may not give students written materials that will influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for either side of pending or proposed legislation.
Furthermore, district and charter school employees, including Governing Board members, may not use their position to influence other employees to vote in a certain way or influence their political activities. The use of school materials for advocacy purposes during an election is one of the areas most restricted by Arizona law. District or charter school equipment such as copiers, computers, printers, telephones, paper, and mailboxes should not be used to generate or distribute materials for advocacy purposes. In addition, students and staff may not prepare or organize election-related information or events. All District and charter school employees should avoid the appearance of advocacy for a certain election position or outcome
The same law applies to the use of the district or charter school’s communication networks, which includes school newsletters and student newspapers. That said, school employees may receive election-related material through district or school provided email accounts, so long as the district or charter school has a policy allowing for receipt of outside, non-school related messages and the messages received are not forwarded to anyone or printed out on district or school printers or paper.
With all of the restrictions listed above, you may be wondering: what are school employees allowed to do? Board members, administrators, teachers, staff, and school volunteers are allowed to exercise their civil and political liberties that are guaranteed by the United States and Arizona Constitutions and are allowed to advocate as private citizens. However, Board members and employees who choose to participate in the election process should make it clear that they are speaking, writing, or acting as private citizens and not as representatives for the district or charter school, or doing so during working hours.
A few examples of what Board members, administrators, teachers and staff can lawfully do are as follows (not an exhaustive list):
- Put up posters and yard signs at their own homes and at the homes of others who may agree and be willing to display the poster/signs.
- Encourage friends, family, neighbors and total strangers to vote in favor of a certain candidate, bond/override, and/or proposed legislation.
- Have bumper stickers on their cars, even when parked in school parking lots.
- Have publicity pamphlets or other election materials that were printed by the candidate or a political action committee available on school property.
- Wear buttons and t-shirts with a political message during their personal time; but not at school during regular business hours or while at other school-sponsored functions if they are serving in a supervisory or official capacity during the function.
While districts and charter schools are not allowed to use school resources for advocacy purposes, they are allowed to use “school district or charter school resources, including facilities and equipment, for government-sponsored forums or debates if the government sponsor remains impartial and the events are purely informational and provide an equal opportunity to all viewpoints.” However, the rental and use of a district or charter school facility by a private person or entity is only permitted if it does not occur at the same time and place as a government-sponsored forum or debate.
District and charter schools should educate their employees as to the consequences of non-compliance. For those readers who have not reviewed the statute in while, there have been some changes to the statute. For example, the financial penalty that may be imposed for each violation of A.R.S. § 15-511 was increased from five hundred dollars to up to five thousand dollars. Employees who are found to have misused any district or charter school resources are personally responsible for paying the civil penalty and for reimbursement of the misused funds.
To access and read A.R.S. § 15-511 in its entirety, go to: http://www.azleg.state.az.us/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/15/00511.htm&Title=15&DocType=ARS
To access and download a PDF of the 2004 Arizona Attorney General School Use Guidelines, go here: https://www.azag.gov/document/school-use-guidelines-school-district-or-charter-school-resources
To read the “Campaigning and Advocacy Do’s and Don’ts” published by the Arizona School Boards Association, go to: http://www.azsba.org/advocacy/resource-center/
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact 480..461.5300, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area.