State Journal: Switching parties; Insulting ruling

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Arizona's outgoing schools superintendent, C. Diane Bishop, has jumped ship from the Democratic Party to become the chief education adviser to newly re-elected Republican Gov. Fife Symington.

Ms. Bishop joined the Governor's staff last week. She officially registered as a Republican last month.

Ms. Bishop had originally planned to seek re-election last November as a Democrat, but eventually withdrew from the race, citing a lack of funds. Republican Lisa Graham, a former state House member, was elected to succeed her.

During the governor's race, Ms. Bishop--appointed to the state board of education in 1984 as a Republican--criticized education positions of the Democratic candidate, Eddie Basha.

Ms. Bishop was quoted in local newspapers as saying she no longer felt comfortable as a Democrat and that her education philosophy had "evolved."

B. Kay Lybeck, the president of the Arizona Education Association, called Ms. Bishop's party flip-flop "kind of underwhelming."

During Ms. Bishop's second term as schools chief, the head of the state Republican Party had called on her to resign following press reports of alleged problems in her personal life. Governor Symington at the time defended her right to remain in office. (See Education Week, 09/25/91.)

Sticks and stones can break one's bones, but insulting a teacher is not a criminal offense.

That is the ruling of a Montana municipal judge who was asked to decide the constitutionality of a decades-old state law making it a misdemeanor for students to cast aspersions on their teachers.

Police in Columbus, Mont., cited that law last spring in writing up a high school student after his math teacher discovered that she had been slighted in a message stored in his calculator's memory.

"It was, how should I say it, a vulgar message," said Douglas D. Howard, the city attorney.

The judge overruled the police, however, deciding that the student's speech--however vulgar--enjoyed First Amendment protection under the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Howard declined to appeal, reasoning that other judges would concur that the law's definition of an insult was too vague.

"If a student goes in to a teacher and says, 'Mrs. Smith, you're a horrible teacher,"' he said, "that is a going to be insulting. But is that a criminal offense?"

--Lynn Schnaiberg & Drew Lindsay

Vol. 14, Issue 16

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