Testimony of AFT-NH on HB 1431 “Parental Bill of Rights” From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH

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Testimony of AFT-NH on HB 1431 “Parental Bill of Rights” From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH

To the Senate Judiciary Committee

Dear Chairwoman Carson 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 am here to express the concerns of my members with HB1431 and ask that you oppose it. The stated aim of House Bill 1431 is praiseworthy, but as an elementary school teacher for 18 years, I can testify that the implementation will cause problems. Teachers and school staff want and welcome parental engagement in education – in fact, we’re desperate for it. Decades of research and data tells us that kids do best when their teachers and parents collaborate and work together to support them, whether it’s in academics, social skills, or anything else they face. But that partnership isn’t something you can legislate, at least not the way this bill is currently written.

HB 1431 contains provisions so sweeping and extreme that it will do the exact opposite of what anyone who cares about kids actually wants: it will drive a needless wedge between parents and educators—and ultimately make it harder for teachers to teach, and create safe, welcoming, inclusive school environments where every kid can succeed. Whether intended or not, the effect of this bill will be to:

  • Create burdensome obligations for schools and districts, drowning educators and administrators in paperwork and approval processes that take time away from working directly with all kids;
  • Trap teachers and school staff in a no-win situation of trying to meet the (often conflicting) demands of individual parents;
  • Pit parents against one another as they advocate individually for their own child and basically guaranteeing that some students’ needs end up prioritized over others.
  • Make taxpayers responsible for any possible litigation – which is likely, given the divisive and exclusionary nature of the bill.

I want to be absolutely clear: as educators, we know how essential parental involvement is. Our schools belong to our communities and the parents who trust us to teach and care for their children every day. You’ll never hear a teacher complain that a parent is TOO engaged in their child’s education. Thus, AFT-NH supports the provisions in this bill that direct districts to have a plan to promote parental involvement; facilitate parents learning more about their child’s general course of study, and ensure that each district gives parents full information about gifted and special education programs they offer. Those are exactly the type of collaborative relationships we aim to build, and while it’s difficult to pass a law creating them, we welcome the effort to foster and deepen parental engagement in public schooling.

But other provisions in the law will erode trust and collaboration among parents, schools and educators – the exact opposite of what we need to help our kids recover and thrive. We oppose this bill’s provisions that would:

  • Give any parent the right to veto any classroom materials, from a lesson plan to a worksheet to a bulletin board decoration. Forcing educators to change literally the tiniest aspect of instruction at the demand of any parent at any time will take precious energy away from instruction and put educators in an impossible bind. What if different sets of parents have conflicting requests on specific learning materials or curriculum aspects? What if a particular parent has multiple, constant demands that take away from the whole class getting the attention and support they need, and that might detract from all parents feeling comfortable voicing their views? Most parents don’t want their child’s teacher bogged down in endless reporting requirements, or their child’s classroom instruction to devolve into chaos, which is what could happen if this bill’s key provisions stand.
  • Encourage parents to sue districts and schools if they feel that their requests, be they for information or a specific instructional change, are not met in a timely or adequate manner. Yes, districts and schools should be responsive to parents. But pushing an adversarial approach and embroiling districts in potentially constant litigation won’t help our children—and will waste taxpayer dollars.
  • Direct that any administrator, teacher, or school employee who allegedly violates any provision of this bill shall have a disciplinary letter placed in their personnel file. This makes it impossible for teachers to do their jobs without fear of discipline, and completely hamstrings their professional judgment, relegating them to little more than robots, but expecting them to adequately educate and prepare kids. Again, this provision also pits parents against schools, and parents against teachers. It will create a chilling and fear-mongering climate in the classroom and drive good people out of the teaching profession, which is already experiencing historic shortages.

HB 1431 expresses a key goal that we all support: Keeping parents informed and involved in their children’s education and ensuring that districts have strategies to encourage and welcome that involvement. That work is not easy, but this bill will make it exponentially harder. It will create more problems than it solves and needlessly divide parents and educators at a time when most of us want to join together to help children recover from the disruption and trauma of the past two years.

 

But don’t just take my word for it. A Dec. 2021 AFT/Hart Research poll of parents shows that teacher and school oversight is not actually high on the list of most parents’ priorities. In fact, the data demonstrates that what most parents worry about is whether schools and teachers have the support and resources to help children who are struggling academically or socially.

And despite politicians trying to gin up angst by putting public schools at the center of a political debate, parents overwhelmingly say (79%) that their children’s teachers are doing a good or excellent job. And they similarly believe (80%) that their children’s teachers communicate well and keep them informed. In other words, this bill attempts to legislate a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

I urge you to vote no on HB 1431, because ultimately, this bill will not help teachers teach or students learn – it will just seed more divisions in our communities and invite further political interference into our classrooms.

Instead, let’s work together to ensure the policies and resources that can foster a welcoming, collaborative, student-focused climate in our schools and communities. That’s the right approach for being accountable to parents, for realizing the promise and purpose of our public schools, and for helping every child succeed.

Sincerely,

Debrah Howes President, AFT-NH