Parents do not have the right to know their middle school children have access to graphic novels that depict children engaged in sex acts and include links to gay dating apps, nor are they allowed to know teachers are urging kindergartners to draw themselves naked.
That was the case New Hampshire Democrats made as they opposed GOP legislation expanding parents’ rights over their kids’ public school experience.
The battle over the Parents’ Bill of Rights took center stage Tuesday with a packed Representatives Hall for the House Education Committee hearing on SB 272. The Senate passed the bill along party lines last month.
A similar House bill sponsored by House Speaker Sherman Packard, HB 10, died in the closely split legislature this year. Packard said the Senate version needs to pass to give parents the final say over their children’s education.
“Parents are responsible for the upbringing of their own children. We support the parents’ right to know what is happening to their child in school. These are our children, not the state’s or the school district’s,” Packard said.
Emotions ran high during several hours of testimony, as Democrats and left-leaning media outlets have characterized the bill as targeting LGBT students.
The bill is designed to address situations like the one in the Manchester school system in which a mother requested information after hearing rumors her child was identifying as a different gender at school. The Manchester district’s policy is to keep that information secret from parents. The mother was forced to sue, and Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Amy Messer upheld the district’s policy directing teachers and staff not to fully and accurately inform parents about their children’s behavior.
Democrats have responded by arguing parents are simply too dangerous to be given the same information about their children that teachers, students, and school staff have.
“What parents are we helping with a bill like this? Not parents who have good relationships with their kids,” Rep. Alicia Gregg (D-Nashua) said Tuesday.
Progressive Rep. Maria Perez (D-Milford) told the bill’s supporters they should be ashamed of themselves. Perez shared her personal tragedy of having grown up in an abusive home and argued that was proof the bill would hurt children.
“I can tell you parents are not always right,” Perez said.
Perez claimed the bill is part of a national movement to harm LGBTQ children and that parents’ rights supporters are enabling hate and white supremacy.
“This language has given white supremacy groups and the Proud Boys the right to come to our communities to be hateful and tries to scare us,” Perez said.
The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), pushed back on the claim the bill is designed to harm gay youth. The bill is a response to what parents learned during the COVID-19 school closures, she said, when many discovered their children were being exposed to sexually inappropriate material as part of public education.
“Many parents became the teachers for their children, and parents were beginning to see what was happening and started raising questions. Unfortunately, parents were shut out and ignored,” Carson said.
Carson said many parents in the state have since learned their school districts have enacted policies that require teachers and staff to lie about a child’s gender identity, as happened in Manchester.
“Those are the types of policies that parents are upset about and that they want changed,” Carson said. “Parents love their children, they care about their children, and they want the best for their children. Schools can’t provide that.”
Former state Senate president and potential 2024 gubernatorial candidate Chuck Morse (R-Salem) testified on behalf of the bill.
“This may seem simple, but it is often overlooked in our education system. Parents should have access to information about their child’s curriculum, as well as any materials or resources that are being used in the classroom. This knowledge is essential to ensure that parents can make informed decisions about their child’s education and can provide the necessary support at home,” Morse said.
Rep. Peter Petrino (D-Milford) claimed the bill would put LGBTQ children in harm’s way, either from abusive parents or self-harm. He said that parents already have legal rights under New Hampshire law, and SB 272 is unnecessary.
And he added that parents should be satisfied with their current ability to file school board complaints, or lawsuits if necessary. Parents should not feel entitled to be told the truth by their children’s teachers.
“No one has the right to compel someone to do something against their will,” Petrino said.
The bill would also give parents the right to see all of the content being taught to their kids, another policy Democrats oppose. Some parents have expressed horror at learning their school library has books available for children that contain graphic sexual content, such as “Gender Queer” and “This Book is Gay.”
When he testified before the committee, Chris Rivet identified himself as a parent and public school teacher. He said he and his wife have been through the system of filing complaints after learning about the social-emotional curriculum offered for five-year-olds. He read from the curriculum, citing a section where teachers urge students to draw themselves naked, including genitalia.
“‘Now that we have talked about our bodies and our public and private parts, we are going to do an activity. We are going to trace our bodies, and then you can draw your body just as it looks when you come out of the bathtub or shower,’” Rivet read.
“Our school is asking our five-year-old children to draw themselves naked, that’s this curriculum. It then goes on, on the second page, to say, ‘If a child is hesitant about drawing, you can gently suggest adding more parts. Can you add your elbows? How about your fingernails? A penis? Another useful approach is to offer to draw for them. Where would you like me to put the nipples?’”
“Would you consider an adult asking a minor to draw themselves naked abuse?” Rivet asked.
Rivet and his wife complained about the curriculum to both local and state education officials, but nothing was done.
“There was no accountability,” Rivet said.