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NH NEA and ACLU Team Up for Another “Banned Concepts” Lawsuit

New Hampshire’s biggest teacher’s union, the National Education Association-NH, and the state chapter of the ACLU have joined forces to combat New Hampshire’s new anti-discrimination law.

Unlike a previously filed lawsuit that used the phrase “divisive concepts” 103 times (a phrase that does not appear anywhere in the law), the lawsuit has updated its language, referring to the law as the “banned concepts” law.

The phrase “banned concepts” does not appear anywhere in the new law, either.

On Monday, the groups announced a new federal lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Concord against the state’s new anti-discrimination law.

“This unconstitutionally vague law disallows students from receiving the inclusive, complete education they deserve, and from having important conversations on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the classroom,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire.

Meg Tuttle, the president of New Hampshire’s NEA branch, claimed the law prevents teachers from teaching full facts around controversial subjects.

“Parents and educators agree students should learn complete facts about historical events like slavery and civil rights. They agree that politicians shouldn’t be censoring classroom discussions between students and their teachers and that educators shouldn’t have their licenses and livelihoods put at risk by a vague law,” Tuttle said.

The problem for Bissonnette and Tuttle is the law passed this year does nothing to ban any concept from being taught but instead bans students from being discriminated against. Indeed, the law explicitly states it does not prohibit, “as a larger court of academic instruction,” teaching about this history of racism, sexism, etc. 

“I don’t think there’s any statement of facts (in the lawsuit) they can make other than people’s feelings,” said state Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, one of the legislators behind the bill. “The left created this false image of what the law actually states.”

According to the legal guidance issued to schools by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Department of Education, the law does nothing to stop any facet of American history from being taught in the classroom.

“Nothing prohibits the teaching of historical subjects including, but not limited to: slavery, treatment of the Native American population, Jim Crow laws, segregation, treatment of women, treatment of LGBTQ+ people, treatment of people with disabilities, treatment of people based on their religion, or the Civil Rights movement. Nor does anything prohibit discussions related to current events including, but not limited to: the Black Lives Matter movement, efforts to promote equality and inclusion, or other contemporary events that impact certain identified groups,” the legal advice from the Attorney General states. 

Instead, the law prohibits students being taught that “a person, because of their membership in one or more identified group(s), is inherently either: (1) racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously or (2) superior or inferior to people of another identified group.”

Ammon said the lawsuit, like the error-filled lawsuit filed last week by New Hampshire’s American Federation of Teachers, is simply a fundraising stunt by the unions and the ACLU.

“They are using it to fundraise off their woke base,” Ammon said. “This how far the ACLU has fallen, they are challenging an anti-discrimination law in federal court.”

The lawsuit lists Andres Mejia as one of the plaintiffs. Mejia is director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, the school district where a Catholic student was punished for expressing tenets of his faith to another student outside the school’s purview.

“This law chills the very type of diversity, equity, and inclusion work that is absolutely necessary to ensure that each student is seen, heard, and connected, especially as New Hampshire becomes more diverse,” Mejia said in a statement.

The Catholic student and his family are suing the Exeter district, though without any help from New Hampshire’s ACLU. Bissonnette did not respond to a question on Monday as to why the American Civil Liberties Union would not defend a student punished for expressing his faith. 

Mejia is also a board member of Black Lives Matter Seacoast, a group that demands the removal of police officers from schools. 

Ammon says he does not think the lawsuit will succeed but does think New Hampshire taxpayers will still lose.

“We have to pay to defend the state in court against their lame allegations,” Ammon said.

Moms for Liberty ‘Bounty’ Offer Adds to CRT Tensions

The New Hampshire branch of Moms For Liberty says it hasn’t paid out any bounties on teachers violating the state’s new anti-discrimination law — yet.

But the group’s leader Rachel Goldsmith hopes to soon.

“We’ve received multiple reports, but won’t be administrating the incentive until we’ve allowed the state to perform due diligence on each report,” Goldsmith said. 

Due diligence is precisely what is behind the new website, set up by the state Department of Education and Commission on Human Rights, for parents to report concerns they have about teachers or administrators discriminating against their children. The new state law prohibits public employees from teaching or training that “an individual, by virtue of his or her age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The law’s goal is to protect students and government employees from the race-based ideology inspired by Critical Race Theory that has made its way into some New Hampshire schools. Manchester, Litchfield, and Laconia have all been caught with content promoting the view that all White people are advancing “white supremacy” and benefit from “white privilege.”

New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut says violations will ultimately be adjudicated by the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission, adding the website is designed to make sure everyone’s rights are respected.

“The benefit of setting out that process is to protect the due process rights of our educators and our students,” Edleblut said in the Jack Heath radio show.

But the Hillsborough Moms For Liberty isn’t waiting for adjudication. It announced a $500 bounty last week for the first person to report an instance of a teacher violating the state’s new anti-discrimination law.

Goldsmith said if public schools had been doing the job in the first place, none of this would be necessary.

“We are parents tired of public school systems failing our children. This incentive will encourage teachers, parents, and students to find and replace bad curriculum. We just want the school boards and teachers unions to stop pushing alphabet soup (CRT/DEI/SEL) and start teaching kids to read. Manchester SD is graduating only 20 percent of kids reading at grade level,” Goldsmith said.

Edelblut did not respond to NH Journal’s question about whether he supports the bounties, but Edelblut said on the radio interview the website and the process of bringing cases to the Human Rights Commission are ways to eliminate mob action. 

“This way we don’t leave it up to social media,” he said.

Goldsmith said the bounties in no way impede the state process.

“No aspect of this compromises that due process,” Goldsmith said. “We look forward to working with the NH Department of Education and Commissioner Edelblut.”

None of the complaints will be handled by Edelblut or the Department of Education.

Gov. Chris Sununu is squarely against the bounty program. Spokesman Ben Vihstadt said, “The governor condemns the tweet referencing ‘bounties’ and any sort of financial incentive is wholly inappropriate and has no place.”

The heads of New Hampshire’s two teachers unions blasted Edelblut over the website, accusing it of dangerous vigilantism. 

“Totally innocent teachers could lose their teaching license over claims that are not backed up by any evidence. Edelblut has declared a war on teachers, a war that the overwhelming majority of N.H. parents will find repulsive,” AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes said.

Meg Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH, called for Sununu to denounce Edelblut over the website.

“Politicians like Commissioner Edelblut are using the dog whistle strategy of distraction, division, and intimidation in their efforts to dictate what teachers say and block kids from learning our shared stories of confronting injustice to build a more perfect union,” Tuttle said.

Edelblut is likely to announce his decision on whether he’s running for U.S. Senate against Democrat Maggie Hassan in the coming weeks. Edelblut has staked out a pro-parent profile in his time as commissioner. He shepherded the state’s Education Freedom Account school choice program, and he expanded learning opportunities outside the classroom. He said parental power in education will be a key part of New Hampshire’s political debate in the coming months.

“Parents should have the primary role in the education of their children. That’s an important part of any election,” he said. “We need to stay involved and make sure parents have a voice.”

State Sen. Chuck Morse, another Republican who might look at the Senate race, came out strongly in favor of parents in a recent Union Leader editorial.

“Parents have the power to bring about political change. Politicians ignore them at their peril,” Morse wrote. “In New Hampshire, Republicans at the Statehouse have been listening to parents and empowering them to be more involved in their children’s education.”

Morse was not available on Wednesday to talk bounties.

The pro-parent message already proved a winner in the Virginia gubernatorial race as pro-school choice Republican Glenn Younking beat the favored Democrat Terry McAullife after McAullife committed a gaffe on the camping trial by saying, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

School Vouchers vs. ESA: The School Choice Debate in NH Heats Up

Education Freedom Accounts Serve the Public Good

The House Education Committee heard testimony on a Senate bill Tuesday that would establish “education freedom savings accounts” for students in the state. Emotions ran high during the crowded hearing in what has been a battle of school choice advocates versus supporters of public schools. Yet, the terms “school vouchers” and “education savings accounts” (ESA) haven often been thrown around synonymously at the New Hampshire State House, resulting in misinformation being spread around about Senate Bill 193.

The bill would allow parents of students between the ages of 5 and 20 to work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 90 percent of the per-pupil state grant funds (approximately $3,500) to be used to cover tuition or other costs at a school of the family’s choice. The family can use the funds to pay for private school tuition — including religious schools — homeschooling expenses, and other academic expenses. The bill passed the Senate on a 14-9 vote in March.

Opponents of the bill claim the ESA would take funding away from public schools that need it most, since students from underfunded or struggling school districts would most likely take advantage of the program. The critics also said the program would unconstitutionally provide taxpayer dollars to religious schools.

Supporters argue the bill would give parents more options for their students, since they know what’s best for their own children. They also claim that by granting parents alternatives to public schools, it would create competition and encourage public schools to increase their performance.

“The American education system has substantially failed to produce what they’re charging for,” said bill sponsor Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, at the hearing.

“It is trying to resolve the problem of having the most expensive education system in the world, and not having the best prepared students in the world,” he added. “The argument we hear is, if we take all this money from our public schools – and this is what our public school administrators tell us – they tell us they won’t know what to do.”

Yet, several opponents of the bill have been using the terms ESA and school vouchers interchangeably to describe what the legislation would do.

The state’s largest teacher union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-NH), has also been telling its supporters that the ESA bill is code for a school voucher program.

“SB 193 is a voucher bill under the guise of ‘Education Freedom Savings Accounts,'” they wrote on their website.

Voucher programs and education savings accounts are similar, but not identical. However, the distinction between them is often muddled by politically-loaded terms. A state school voucher program grants parents a credit for a certain tuition value that they can use to enroll their child in a private school

ESAs are similar, but offer more flexibility to the parents. When parents get an ESA, they are awarded a yearly sum that can be mixed and matched to suit their children’s educational needs. The funds can be used all for private school tuition, like a voucher, or they can split it among many education opportunities like private tutoring, textbooks, and even saving for college.

The AFT-NH encouraged their supporters to fill out a robo-petition that would be sent to lawmakers encouraging them to vote “no” on SB 193 and creating ESA for students.

“Despite being labeled an ‘Education Freedom Savings Account,’ make no mistake this is a voucher bill which will directly take taxpayer dollars intended for our public schools and divert to private and other institutions,” the petition website states.

House Education Committee Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, said his panel would likely vote on the bill at the end of the month. The committee has until April 26 to act on this legislation, at which point, it would probably go to the House Finance Committee before reaching the House floor for a vote.

Due to Republicans holding a slight majority in the House, it’s likely the bill will pass committee. What ultimately happens when it comes to a floor vote in the full House is anyone’s guess.

A recent survey from Citizens Count, NH’s Live Free or Die Alliance found 54 percent of respondents were opposed to “granting parents a portion of state funds to pay educational expenses for private or home-schooled students” and 46 percent supported the measure.

The bill has even grabbed the attention of former Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who wrote a Monday op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader expressing his support of the ESA bill.

“Empowering parents with the freedom to choose encourages positive change because the right to educate their children no longer can be taken for granted,” Bush wrote. “It must be earned. I commend Sen. John Reagan and Rep. Joseph Pitre for introducing this legislation, and Gov. Chris Sununu, who has been a passionate advocate for school choice.”

There are still some questions to be answered and changes the bill needs before the House votes on it. House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said he supports the bill, but the question over funds going to religious schools would need to be addressed. The state constitution expressly forbids taxpayer funds going to religious schools.

Anne Edwards, an attorney with the state’s attorney’s office, warned lawmakers at the Tuesday hearing that if they don’t tweak the bill in regards to the religious school issue, the state could face legal and constitutional challenges.

However, Kate Baker, director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, said legislators shouldn’t let the threat of litigation stop them from passing the bill.

“I believe this will be in the courts, no matter what you do,” she said. “Parents want to go to court and fight for their right to make these choices for their children.”

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How Do Hassan, Shaheen Stack Up to Their Own Criticisms of Betsy DeVos?

Some local headlines of the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing showed Sen. Maggie Hassan making her mark early in her first term.

Hassan emerges as fierce critic of Trump’s Cabinet nominees,” reads an article from the Associated Press. Hassan’s questioning of President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education earned her 15 minutes in the national spotlight after she hammered DeVos on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and school vouchers.

But a look at Hassan’s record shows she has taken advantage of school choice, despite questioning DeVos about it.

Hassan sits on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) and voted against DeVos’s nomination on Tuesday in a committee vote. The freshman senator, whose son has cerebral palsy, is an expert on public education for students with disabilities. Her son, Ben, went to public high school.

But DeVos has received a significant amount of criticism from Senate Democrats and the media due to her lack of experience in the public school system and for being in favor of school choice and school vouchers. The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are also against her nomination.

However, six of the 10 Senate Democrats on the HELP committee attended private or parochial schools, or have children and grandchildren attending them, according to information obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group.

Sens. Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Michael Bennet of Colorado sit on the committee and have never attended public school, according to the investigation.

For Hassan, her husband Tom, served as the principal of the elite Phillips Exeter Academy, where their daughter, Margaret, attended, as well. Tom was censured last year for failing to disclose sexual misconduct charges against a faculty member.

Hassan received approximately $10,000 from the NEA during her Senate campaign and the union also spent $1.5 million against her opponent, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. AFT also spent $4,400 against Ayotte.

“It’s just bizarre to see people who have exercised those school options suggesting that it’s somehow problematic or malicious to extend those options to all families,” said Frederick Hess, executive editor of Education Next, to the Daily Caller.

Hassan’s record on school choice is also revealing. While she was a supporter of public charter schools as governor, she did veto a bill that would enable small school districts to pay tuition, at public or private schools, for students of any grade level if it is not available within their resident district.

On a recent interview with NPR, Hassan reiterated her support for charter schools, but she took issue with DeVos position of a voucher system.

“I am a proud supporter of public charter schools here in New Hampshire, as well,” she said. “But there is a real difference between public charter schools, which can be established working with local communities and educators to fill a particular need in the public school system and provide more alternatives and more choice for learning styles and families – than a voucher system, which diverts money from the public school system, generally and often doesn’t cover the full cost of the private school that the student is attending.”

During DeVos’s confirmation hearing, Hassan also questioned her on her role in her family’s foundation, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. While it’s being debated if DeVos was accurate with statements during the hearing about having a role or not, she is also being charged that she and her family have donated extensively to groups which promote the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students must undergo “conversion therapy.”

The claim comes from Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who cites their large donations to the Focus on the Family group as evidence. Politifact found his claim to be “Mostly False” saying they found indications that the group supports conversion therapy, but there was no evidence that they believe that LGBT students must undergo it.

A recent report by The New York Times, highlights another side of DeVos not seen in public. She has supported her gay friends and advocated for LGBT rights as far back as the 1990s. This shows her coming out in support significantly earlier than a lot of Democrats who are questioning her on these beliefs.

“At that time, two colleagues recalled, she made accommodations for a transgender woman to use the women’s restroom at a Michigan Republican Party call center,” the article states. She also used her political connections to help persuade other Michigan Republicans to sign a brief urging the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015, though she did not sign it herself.”

“This aspect of Ms. DeVos’s personal story is not only at odds with the public image of her and her family as prominent financiers of conservative causes, but it also stands out in a nascent administration with a number of members who have a history of opposing gay rights,” the report continued.

Hassan has been a champion for LGBT rights in New Hampshire, dating back to her time in the state Legislature. In June 2016, she issued an executive order that banned discrimination in state government based on gender identity.  

However, her colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, hasn’t always been supportive of LGBT rights. Shaheen has announced that she will vote “no” on DeVos’s nomination.

As governor, Shaheen initially opposed same-sex marriage. After Vermont signed into law a “civil union” bill in 2000, Shaheen said she didn’t support it.

“I believe that marital unions should exist between men and women,” she said at the time.

However, she came out in favor of marriage for same-sex couples in 2009 and became a sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. Senate. She also voted in favor of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military and supported government recognition of same-sex spouses of military members and other government personnel.

Although Hassan and Shaheen didn’t mention DeVos’s stance on LGBT student rights when they said they wouldn’t vote in favor of her nomination, it is interesting to note the differences in time of support between them of LGBT causes.

Shaheen agrees with Hassan, saying that DeVos is “unqualified” to be the next secretary of education. The full Senate is expected to vote on DeVos’s nomination on Thursday.