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AFT-NH Testimony In Opposition to HB 1312 (parental notification of student health or well being and certain curricula by school districts)

Thank you, Chair Ward and Members of the Senate Education Committee for taking my testimony.

My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH.

AFT-NH represents 3,700 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education faculty across New Hampshire. My members are parents and grandparents of Granite State public school students as well as local property taxpayers.. We stand in opposition to HB 1312 relative to parental notification of student health or well-being and certain curricula by school districts

We oppose this bill because it is not in the best interests of students being able to learn a full and robust curriculum in our public schools. Parents already have the right to notice of the content of curriculum on human sexuality in heath and sexual education classes. The expansion of the areas requiring two week parental notification could conceivably be used to object to content beyond materials in biology or health class directly related to reproduction and human sexuality. Expanding the areas of objection to include sexual orientation, gender,  gender identity or gender expression could require notification before covering any material dealing with gender inequality in hiring or pay in economics or discussing civil rights for gay, lesbian and transgender Americans as part of history or current events classes. It could even require parental notification before reading classics such as  Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” where characters swap gender roles.

 With a broadly written bill like this, it will be difficult to determine what specific material outside of biology and health classes need to have the two week parental notification because they mention, even if only in passing,  sexual orientation, gender,  gender identity or gender expression. Because these are all part of the human experience, they are legitimate subjects that come up in history, current events, literature, art and music. Passing this bill will definitely have a chilling effect on what books teachers choose to read with their students and their education will be diminished by it. The concern about being punished for choosing the wrong materials isn’t overblown!  We already have the example of Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut overstepping his powers and inserting himself into local school district procedures by insisting on an informal investigation of an educator who read a story to her class about a family that had two mothers. There was nothing graphic or salacious in the picture book, it merely talked about the existence of a  family with two mommies. If this bill passes, would that be considered an impermissible mention of sexual orientation? Would it be okay to mention a family that has a mother and a father, because heterosexuality is a sexual orientation.? It is simply a book that reflects some of the families  we find in many of our Granite State communities is neither warranting of a parental notification on curriculum nor of a Department of Education investigation. 

The main point is, all of our students need to feel they are safe, welcome and belong in our public schools. They will not feel they belong at school if we are censoring some of the curriculum, especially if it is a part that reflects their families or their lives. They will not feel safe if we are always watching what they do and say to report back to their parents. For these reasons we also object to the parental notification of changes in student well-being portion of this bill. We are concerned that it will greatly increase students’ feelings of anxiety and mistrust. Teachers should be allowed to simply teach and do their job, instead of forcing them pay attention to everything kids wear, say and do and then be tattletales if asked by parents. This is not what most N.H. parents want and doesn’t move the needle at all in terms of improving or schools or student achievement.

For the reasons stated above we ask you to find HB 1312 Inexpedient to Legislate.


Debrah Howes

President, AFT-New Hampshire

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