The New Hampshire branch of the American Federation of Teachers joined a handful of parents and teachers in a federal lawsuit Monday against “divisive concepts statute.” Only one problem: New Hampshire doesn’t have one.
The 50-page lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Concord — which often reads like a political campaign flyer — uses the phrase “divisive concepts” 103 times, even though the “divisive concepts” bill never passed the legislature. Instead, the state passed an anti-discrimination bill attempting to stop the continued use of Critical Race Theory-inspired curricula.
The lawsuit also quotes from legislation that was never passed, as well as screenshots of social media posts by private organizations like Moms for Liberty, which are not named in the suit and have no role in New Hampshire’s education system.
“It’s not shocking to me that there’s a lawsuit, but it does shock me that the lawsuit filed completely overlooks the actual legislation that was passed,” said Ryan Terrell, the only Black member of the state Board of Education.
The lawsuit refers to the anti-discrimination law — which bans government employees from teaching or training that immutable aspects like race or sex make people inherently inferior, superior, or racist — as the “divisive concepts statute.” The actual law does not contain the phrase and explicitly allows for the teaching of U.S. history on the issue of race.
“They must have filed this lawsuit in the wrong state,” said state Rep. Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, the House Majority Leader. “New Hampshire does not have a ‘divisive concepts’ statute.
Contacted Monday evening, AFT-NH President Deb Howes, refused to answer questions before hanging up.
“Not right now, I’m the car,” she said when NH Journal’s reporter identified himself.
A national AFT spokesperson referred questions about “divisive concepts” back to Howes, but noted that many in the New Hampshire media have labeled the law as a “divisive concept” law that bans certain subjects from being taught.
State Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, can’t understand why the American Federation of Teachers wants to overturn an anti-discrimination law.
“New Hampshire’s anti-discrimination law prohibits teaching New Hampshire students that they are ‘inherently superior or inferior to people of another age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin.'” Bradley said. “Clearly any instruction that teaches students they are inferior or superior due to these characteristics is discrimination and it’s terribly disappointing that this lawsuit has even been filed.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of teachers and parents against what they claim is a “culture war” in the classroom.
“The ‘culture wars’ have no place in New Hampshire’s classrooms. Our public school teachers and support staff are dedicated public servants who have stepped up and devoted themselves beyond measure during the pandemic to continue to teach our children,” the lawsuit states. “Yet, they are being politically targeted and threatened with public shaming and undeserved disciplinary proceedings (not to mention the cost of defending themselves) for doing their jobs in accordance with the curriculum formally adopted by the state.
“New Hampshire parents, too, are entitled to send their children to school, expecting a full and robust exchange of ideas in the classroom, uncorrupted by censorship and extremist partisanship,” according to the lawsuit.
Parents opposed to CRT-based instruction say school administrators and teachers brought the culture war into the classroom by teaching their children they are white supremacists or part of upholding white supremacy, regardless of their behavior or beliefs.
Terrell opposed the original bill as censorship and an overstep. The anti-discrimination law that passed is something he supports, since it reinforces the American principle of equality, without dictating what can be taught in the classroom. He said the NH AFT’s lawsuit presumes New Hampshire teachers can’t handle nuance.
“This is a slap in the face to our teachers,” he said.
The suit names New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire Commissioner on Human Rights chair Christian Kim and Attorney General John Fomella as defendants.
Edelblut declined to comment, citing pending litigation.