AFT-NH Testimony on HB 1015 (relative to school district policies regarding objectionable material)

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From: Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH

To: NH House Education Committee

Dear Chairman Ladd and Members of the Committee,

My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers – NH. AFT-NH represents 3,500 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees, and higher education staff across New Hampshire.

I write to you in opposition to HB1015. This bill would take a narrowly tailored law aimed at giving parents advance notice of materials used for instruction around human sexuality and human sexuality education in health and biology classes and expand it so it would cover any class taught at any grade level in any subject in public schools. The original law allowed parents 2 weeks of time to review materials for those limited specified topics. If parents found the materials objectionable, they could request alternative materials to cover the topic while their student opted out of the planned lesson. If this bill passes removing the phrases human sexuality and human sexual education, there will be no limit to the topics about which 2 weeks advance curriculum course materials will be required by state law.

There are several problems with this bill.

  1. This bill is subjective. It is impossible to predict what anyone might find objectionable, since that is an entirely subjective standard. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, many teachers will be directed to provide 2 weeks of curriculum course materials for everything they teach in case something might offend someone, somewhere. That is a LOT of materials to provide and a lot of extra work every 2 weeks on the off chance someone might find something offensive.
  2. This bill is vague. What constitutes “curriculum course materials?” In the testimony at the public hearing on this bill its supporters could not even agree what this meant. Is it just a list of topics that will be covered, what is often referred to as the scope and sequence of units and lessons? Is it the published curriculum bought from a publishing company? Is it every last exemplar, article, worksheet and online link a teacher plans on using to bring that bought curriculum to life and adapt it to the learning needs of his or her students?
  3. This bill is burdensome. By having to provide curriculum course materials at least 2 weeks in advance, it would take away much of the ability to do what good teachers need to do. Good teachers reflect on their teaching. They frequently check in with students to see what they are understanding from a lesson. If needed, they add in opportunities for additional explanation and practice, which requires supplemental materials, always chosen following district policies. They accelerate the pace if good understanding is achieved quickly, which means skipping some materials. Really good teachers give students agency in their own learning by allowing choice of materials. All of that is incredibly burdensome if straitjacketed by a law like this. The students’ learning experience in the classroom, ownership of learning and indeed, joy of learning will suffer if we are forced to keep to a strict, regimented schedule because it is what we have put out as the 2 week plan.

We heard from the supporters of the bill that the purpose was to allow for more parent involvement in curriculum. There are already ways to achieve that without drowning teachers, administrators, and district offices in paperwork, actual or virtual. We welcome the active participation of parents in the education of their children. Many school districts make curriculum available through their websites. Schools also address the curriculum that will be used through Open Houses and print or online newsletters. Teachers and school administration are always just a phone call or email away if a parent ever has a question about curriculum, whether it is a particular assignment that has come home, or the overall scope and sequence of a course. Local school boards have presentations, discussions and voting in open meetings when a new curriculum is adopted. We want parents to   understand what their children are learning and feel comfortable supporting that learning at home. The richest learning experiences happen when parents and schools can work together as partners.

We urge you to vote ITL on HB 1015.

Sincerely, Debrah Howes

  President AFT-NH