Thank you, Chairperson Lynn and Members of the House Judiciary Committee, for hearing my testimony today. I appreciate the chance to address this amendment.
My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH.
AFT-NH represents 4,000 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees, and higher education faculty across New Hampshire. My members work with approximately 29,000 of the 165,000 public school students in New Hampshire in one way or another, as well as thousands of university students. I am writing today in opposition to the amendment to HB533, relative to public school human rights complaints.
We find this amendment quite problematic because it is so broad it could be applied to any educator at any time. It gives the Commissioner of Education the power to issue subpoenas for “persons, relevant documents and relevant items” under the RSA that gives the State Board of Education rulemaking authority to establish and enforce an Educator Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. Every single licensed professional – teacher, reading specialist, school counselor, principal - working in a public school is covered by the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. In effect, this amendment is saying that you are giving the Commissioner of Education the power to subpoena almost anyone who works in a public school for any interaction with a student that someone thinks might be a problem under the Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct. That is incredibly broad power that no other department has over thousands of workers across the state with almost no restrictions on how it would be used.
This subpoena amendment gives an unelected bureaucrat an unprecedented power that is best kept by the state Attorney General’s office. There is nothing in this amendment that limits the use of this power to evidentiary hearings or gives other due process protections to the subject of the investigation. It gives the Commissioner (who is not a lawyer or legal policy expert) almost unfettered leeway to harass educators, and to cause untold trouble and work for school districts, when what teachers and districts want to be concentrating on what kids need to succeed in school. We already have a state Attorney General’s office with subpoena authority and the right expertise to exercise it. If the Department of Education has concerns about an educator, it should be communicating those concerns with the Attorney General’s office.
This amendment, simply put, is government overreach:
- It will worsen the witch hunt atmosphere that so many educators are already contending with.
- It will deflect public school and district energy and resources away from our students.
- It will cost districts untold money and time.
- And it’s the wrong tool to put in the hands of the wrong person.
Our students need and deserve the resources and supports in their neighborhood public schools to help them succeed and thrive. Teachers and school staff need and deserve your support so we can do our best job for New Hampshire students. Let’s keep focusing on the kids, vs. bringing political infighting to the classroom with intrusive and chilling laws like this one. That’s what educators want, that’s what parents are asking for, and that’s what we owe our students.
I urge you to vote Inexpedient to Legislate on this amendment. I previously testified that the underlying bill was Inexpedient to Legislate as well.
Debrah Howes, AFT-NH President