AFT-NH Testimony on SB 272
From Debrah Howes, President of AFT-NH
Thank you, Chair Ladd and Members of the House Education Committee, for reading my testimony.
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 working with thousands of university students. I am writing today in opposition to SB 272, establishing the parental bill of rights.
I urge you in no uncertain terms to vote “no” on SB 272 the so-called “Parental Bill of Rights.” This bill has very little to do with actually helping students or parents. Instead, it would force schools to divert their limited resources from teaching and supporting kids, into spying, reporting on and in some cases, actually endangering, children who are just trying to be themselves and live their lives in peace. It will hurt vulnerable students and drive good teachers and staff away from New Hampshire schools. It’s pure “performance politics.”
Let’s start with the obvious. We know that the students in our neighborhood public schools make the most academic gains and really thrive when parents, teachers and school staff work together as a support team for the best interest of each student. Educators want nothing more than to work as partners with parents who are involved and invested in their student’s education! However, bills like SB 272 get in the way of that kind of partnership. SB 272 would impose chilling, McCarthyistic, broad, and vague restraints that will hinder schools from providing a safe, welcoming learning environment that promotes learning and success for all kids and welcomes all children and families. This bill tells teachers and school staff they must put aside any obligation to the student. It outlaws the human courtesy and kindness that can be as simple as treating the student with respect. It puts educators in a no-win bind when they try to teach any district-approved curriculum that conflicts with this bill’s requirements.
And as our social worker colleagues have pointed out, in some cases this bill will put students in danger at home, in cases where parents are unsupportive or actually abusive to a child who is LGBTQ+. Schools have a moral and legal obligation to protect children from abuse—not to put them at risk of it! Imagine how a teacher or principal or you as legislators would feel if a school “turned in” a child who was participating in LGBTQ+ clubs or activities, or who had requested a specific name to be used in class, or any of the many things this bill requires to be reported, and that child subsequently was harmed at home or committed suicide. That is an unbearable thing to think about. And we know that a May 2022 survey from the Trevor Project showed that nearly half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the preceding year, according to a report on NPR. These risks are not imaginary or “woke.” They are about children’s lives and well-being.
There is a saying in education, no significant learning occurs without significant relationships. Teachers work hard to develop rapport and trust with students because you get better engagement in your lessons and more willingness to tackle difficult academic tasks. By requiring teachers and school staff to act as parents’ surveillance agents against their students, this bill destroys that trust. It creates an environment of distrust among educators and students and does nothing to further students’ education. In fact, it has great potential to limit it.
Right now, in schools across New Hampshire, the Department of Education is paying for the “One Trusted Adult” program, which is an anti-bullying program. I have included a flyer from this program at the end of my testimony. On the flyer it says, “What you say in here…stays in here.” Under that is says “Unless, you give permission to share with another trusted adult.” This bill would require teachers to break that kind of trust on any given day.
By singling out only LGBTQ+ students or behaviors that indicate a student might be part of the LGBTQ+ community, this bill would require teachers and school staff to discriminate against some of our students—to turn away from these often-vulnerable students. That is just plain wrong! And, of course, if teachers and school staff refuse to discriminate, under this bill they will be punished by being sued for damages and legal costs. This bill will drive teachers and paraeducators away from our schools just when we are facing record shortages here in New Hampshire.
Once again, a small group of extremists is trying to force educators and school staff to discriminate by threatening them with lawsuits and career and financial ruination if they don’t. That is not what Granite Staters want! The midterm elections told us that—voters in district after district supported pro-public-education candidates and investment in our public schools. Nationally, poll after poll says the same thing: Parents and voters don’t want politicized culture wars, and they want public schools strengthened, not abandoned.
We need our students to feel safe and welcome at school. We need students to have a level of trust in their teachers so they can succeed and thrive. For the sake of their well-being, and perhaps their very survival, we also need for students to know that they can turn to their teachers or school staff as a trusted adult – especially if they don’t have one in their home. SB 272 erodes trust and will diminish the quality of some students’ educational experience and cause them to lose a place and person that feels safe to them.
For those reasons and the reasons stated above we urge you to vote SB 272 Inexpedient to Legislate.
President, AFT-New Hampshire