Huppenthal is target of lawsuit over free speech claim concerning Common Core

PHOENIX -- A Tucson fifth-grade teacher who has been a vocal opponents of Common Core claims his First Amendment rights were violated by state School Superintendent John Huppenthal.

Brad McQueen claims in a lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court that Huppenthal and his staff effectively blackballed him from participating in advisory committees of the Arizona Department of Education. That denied him not only the ability to have an influence over education issues but also the stipend that goes with that.

The lawsuit asks a judge to bar Huppenthal from using McQueen's position on Common Core to exclude him from any committees for which he is qualified. And he wants a legal declaration that his free speech rights were violated.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said neither the agency nor Huppenthal would have any comment.

Attorney Kurt Altman from the Goldwater Institute said Huppenthal is being targeted not only because he was aware of decisions on committee memberships being made by his staffers. The lawsuit claims that Huppenthal "participated by disparaging plaintiff in the campaign trail.'

That refers to comments made during a debate Huppenthal had in August with Republican primary foe Diane Douglas. A foes of Common Core, she told the audience that Huppenthal and his agency forced McQueen out because they did not want to hear from those opposed.

Huppenthal said he had no problem with conservatives on the committees. But he said McQueen "created a problem' by insisting that Native Americans be referred to as Indians.

Altman acknowledged that the question of McQueen's participation on future committees could soon be academic.

Douglas not only defeated Huppenthal in the primary but also went on to win the general election over Democrat David Garcia.

That means that, come Jan. 5, she will be running the agency. And Altman said that also means it will be Douglas, and not Huppenthal, making decisions over who serves on various committees.

But Altman said he wants a judge to order that any "black marks' on any files about McQueen at the Department of Education be erased.

The lawsuit is the latest dust-up about the controversial academic standards. Crafted by the National Governors Association and adopted by Arizona four years ago with the backing of both Huppenthal and Gov. Jan Brewer, they spell out what students should know in math and language skills at various stages of their education.

Proponents contend they will ensure that Arizona students learn what they need to go on to higher education or get a job after high school graduation. But foes argue that it amounts to surrendering control of local curriculum to the federal government.

McQueen has been part of that criticism, even publishing a book, "The Cult of Common Core: Obama's Final Solution for Your Child's Mind and Our Country's Exceptionalism.'

But it what McQueen did closer to home that the lawsuit claims resulted in his exclusion from committees on not just Common Core but also one on the AIMS standardized tests and another on the assessment of whether students were learning English.

That included an opinion piece he wrote in February for a newspaper and a radio interview the same month.

The lawsuit says one employee at the Department of Education sent a memo to others who were in charge of the advisory committees saying McQueen "is on a roll' criticizing the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, the new name given to Common Core, and how "you might want to check your list of teacher teams.'

The response, the lawsuit says, was to thank the employee and say "we have made a note on his record.'

Altuck said that McQueen, who had participated on testing committees for compensation for the prior five years, was not invited.

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.

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