Utah public teachers’ email addresses will be given to Republican leaders in the Legislature if Cox signs bill

Republican lawmakers also voted down an effort to also share those public school employee emails with minority leaders in the Legislature.

Tucked inside a massive education bill that sets requirements for how and when public schools must report attendance and disciplinary issues is a provision allowing Utah’s Speaker of the House and Senate President to obtain the email address of every school employee in the state to communicate with them on behalf of the Legislature.

The original version of HB82 required every local school board to provide work — not personal — email addresses for every employee to the state board of education every year. Those emails could be used for “official communications” from the board no more than four times yearly. The Legislature could also request access to that email list for “official communications.”

The House Education Committee stripped out the language authorizing the Legislature to access those emails. But later, the Senate Education Committee amended the bill to give House Speaker and Senate President the ability to use that email list to send up to three emails a year, and those communications can only be about the “teaching profession or education policy.”

Riverton Republican Rep. Candace Pierucci, the bill’s sponsor, argued that lawmakers should be able to tell school employees what they’re doing on their behalf.

“The state pays a portion of educational expenses in our state. We’re paying a portion of their salaries. When we want to communicate with those employees, there’s no way for us to do that. This allows us to do that in a very limited scope,” Pierucci argued.

Giving the top Republicans in the Utah Legislature the ability to email all public education employees seems borne from frustration that much of the information they receive about the Legislature comes from advocacy groups like the Utah Education Association (UEA).

“The intent is for teachers to get information that somehow is not getting through the pipeline,” Pierucci explained.

Utah has strict rules governing public school employees’ use of their work email accounts, and political activities are strictly forbidden. The bill says the emails can only contain “official communications.” Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, worried messages from elected officials could be misinterpreted as being political and lead to problems.

“Teachers are not supposed to be political. We’re not supposed to show our partisan colors. I take that very seriously,” Riebe, an educator, said during a debate on the Senate floor. “I am concerned that our teachers might reply to an email that has political speak to it and get themselves in trouble.”

According to the UEA, they send emails about legislative issues to its members on legislative issues about a dozen times a year, and they’re careful only to use personal email accounts. UEA President Renée Pinkney also worries that allowing for official communications from the Legislature could be a recipe for disaster.

“UEA is concerned that educators could face disciplinary action if they use their school email and computer during contract hours to reply to ‘official communications’ from the Legislature that tout legislative accomplishments they disagree with,” Pinkney said in an email to The Tribune. “This potential conflict with district policy places our educators in a very precarious position.”

Under the bill, which was given final passage by the Legislature on Thursday, only the House Speaker and Senate President can email school employees. Republicans shot down an attempt to include leaders from the minority party on the list.

“We’re now going to have access to thousands of emails from teachers? It’s a really odd request. I’m surprised we haven’t put the entire state government in here,” Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, argued. “Not having the minority party included is not appropriate.”

The bill is currently awaiting a final decision by Gov. Spencer Cox.