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Judge Won’t End Exeter Teen’s Trans Speech Case; Cites ‘Constitutional Issues’

Rockingham Superior Court Judge David Ruoff rejected requests for summary judgment from both the Exeter High School student claiming he was discriminated against for saying there are only two genders and the school’s attorney, citing “constitutional issues.”

Attorneys for both SAU 16 and the Exeter High School student known as M.P. asked Ruoff for summary judgment. That would essentially have the judge give one side a win and close the case.

Ruoff, however, said there is too much in the case that is in dispute for him to make such a ruling, including constitutional questions that need to be addressed.

“Each version of the relevant events implicates different constitutional issues and consideration,” Ruoff wrote in the July 29 ruling. “Thus, due to the presence of a genuine issue of material fact, the court finds summary judgment inappropriate.”

In his lawsuit, M.P. claims he was disciplined for expressing his views, informed by his Catholic faith, that there are only two genders. M.P. claims he expressed those views outside of the school campus—on a school bus and later through a text app—and that he was suspended from the football team after the conversation was reported to school officials.

Exeter High School and SAU 16 officials say M.P. was disciplined for being a bully and not for expressing his religious views.

The district’s attorney, Michel Eaton claimed M.P. is not the victim of religious discrimination but instead was benched for a game by his coach for violating the team’s code of conduct. The benching had nothing to do with the school’s transgender discrimination policies, according to Eaton.

“M.P.’s coach did not decide to bench M.P. based upon M.P.’s opinion that there are only two genders, nor would he. Rather, M.P. was benched for using crude, inappropriate, and disrespectful language while communicating with Student Doe. This behavior was consistent with M.P.’s documented history of bullying and inappropriate behavior, including such behavior on the school bus and such behavior targeted at Student Doe specifically,” Eaton wrote in the district’s response to the lawsuit.

Court records indicate M.P. and Student Doe’s conversation included M.P. calling Student Doe a “bozo,” and M.P. telling Student Doe to “STFU” because “there’s only 2 genders.” Student Doe took those texts to Coach William Ball, according to the court record.

Ball then took M.P. to Vice Principal Marcy Dovholuk, who told him he would be benched for a week because of the “conversation about pronouns.”

Ball later reduced the suspension to one game, based on M.P.’s alleged violation of the athletic code of conduct.

M.P. ‘s lawyers say the benching was in retaliation for his conservative view of gender.

Exeter High School and SAU 16 have been on the frontlines of the culture wars in New Hampshire. Andres Mejia, the director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, is part of the federal lawsuit against the state over the so-called “banned concepts” law, claiming the state is trying to stop teaching about racial and gender issues.

The anti-discrimination law prohibits students from 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.”

Mejia is also a member of the controversial Black Lives Matter organization and denied it creates a conflict when dealing with students based on race or ideology.

Last year, Exeter High School also got in trouble after staff at the prom started putting Sharpie marks on the hands of students who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Numerous parents complained, prompting a joint review by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Education, which called the prom fiasco a “disturbing failure.”

The review found the staff at the prom had already been told by administrators to not do anything of the kind before they started marking students.

“The fact that supervising SAU 16 staff did not stop the contact tracing procedure, despite having acknowledged receiving the email from the superintendent informing all staff that they were not to ask students about their vaccine status, is a very disturbing failure to protect students,” the statement reads.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and DOE joint investigation came after months of complaints from parents ranging from the prom incident to the way a sexual assault was reported. The review looked at six issues in the school district. While lapses in some cases were noted, there did not appear to be any criminal or civil charges forthcoming, according to the report.

“The AGO does not find any violation of New Hampshire law regarding discrimination due to this issue. However, both the AGO and DOE are deeply concerned regarding the public marking of students’ hands and the lack of protection for students’ vaccination information,” the joint statement read.

In Pursuit of ‘Diversity,’ Portsmouth Kills Columbus Day, Keeps Indigenous People’s Day

Bowing to pressure from a group of “woke” high school activists, the Portsmouth City Council voted to cancel Columbus Day.

For years, the seacoast city known for its liberal politics has recognized both Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day on the same date — traditionally October 12. But at Monday night’s council meeting, students with Portsmouth High School’s We Speak club for social justice activism complained that accommodating Columbus Day and the history it celebrates was intolerable.

Olivia Annunziata Blaisdell, with We Speak, called the dual celebrations inadequate and insulting. Emily Stokel, another student with We Speak, said it was time to stop honoring Columbus.

“Continuing to celebrate Christopher Columbus, who committed serious atrocities and massacres among the indigenous populations he encountered is unjust and cruel,” Stokel said.

Mayor Deaglan McEachern said the vote was about honoring the people who came before the city was founded 400 years ago. Portsmouth was home to Abenaki and Wabanaki people.

“We are a nation of immigrants, but it’s good to remember there were people here before us, especially here in Portsmouth,” McEachern.

Critics wondered why the city could not continue to observe both days, why one had to be embraced and the other excluded.

City Councilor Beth Moreau was the only no vote on the measure, saying she feared the change would be a disservice to the city’s Italian American residents.

Christopher Columbus is a symbol of the important role Catholics have played in this country going back to before the founding,” said Michael McDonald, communications director with the Catholic League. “Attempts to cancel Columbus Day are more than just canceling the legacy of some 15th Century explorer. It sends a message to Catholics that they have a diminished role in the American experience.”

Columbus was adopted as a patron for Catholic Italian immigrants in the 1880s. The Italians connected to Columbus as they sought to be accepted as Americans. In the 1920s, Columbus Day celebrations were at times violently opposed by the Ku Klux Klan due to its hatred of Catholics.

Opponents of Columbus Day claim celebrating Europeans arriving in the New World is tantamount to celebrating slavery, bigotry and genocide. Activists like Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The 1619 Project, have gone so far as to claim the true founding of America should be dated to the arrival of the first African slaves brought to the continent.

Historians note, however, that slavery, ritual human sacrifice and even cannibalism were practiced by the peoples of the Americas before Europeans arrived. In fact, the Abenaki and Wabanaki are believed to have taken the land they inhabited by violently driving out tribes affiliated with the Iroquois

There is no text to the resolution, as the council was voting on the We Speak request to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. The matter was introduced as a motion from the council to vote on as an action item.

The Order of Sons and Daughters of Italy in America has been working for years to save Columbus Day from cancellation. The group says the holiday is about celebrating the best in America.

“Columbus celebrates the beginning of cultural exchange between America and Europe. After Columbus, millions of European immigrants brought their art, music, science, medicine, philosophy and religious principles to America. These contributions have helped shape the United States and include Greek democracy, Roman law, Judeo-Christian ethics and the belief that all men are created equal,” the group states.

In an attempt at accommodation earlier this year, state Rep. Jess Edwards (R-Auburn) sponsored legislation declaring August 9 Indigenous People’s Day, to coincide with the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Progressive activists opposed it, insisting –as the Portsmouth students did — that eliminating Columbus Day was their priority.

“We can’t be honoring violence,” said Asma Elhuni, a leading member of the Granite State’s progressive BIPOC community.

McEachern understands people might have different opinions about keeping the celebration, but he said removing Columbus Day does not harm Italian Americans.

“It doesn’t take away anything from anyone to recognize that to be a nation of immigrants means there were people here before us,” McEachern said.

SCOTUS Ruling on Religious Ed Funding Affirms NH School Choice Approach

The U.S. Supreme Court is catching up to New Hampshire’s parental-rights approach to education, affirming that parents who use publicly-funded choice programs are free to choose religious schools.

In a 6-3 ruling released Tuesday, the court found Carson v. Makin that First Amendment protections for religious expression prohibit the government from discriminating against religious schools when states offer a school choice program to parents.

Maine has many rural communities — encompassing almost half of all the state’s 260 school districts — that cannot afford to support a middle school or high school. The state has long offered families tuition assistance so they can access education services for their children. But in 1981, Maine passed a law preventing parents from choosing a religious school.

The Supreme Court found that prohibition was unconstitutional.

“The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools—so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

While Tuesday’s ruling is a big change for some 18 states with similar bans, New Hampshire is at the forefront of school choice religious freedom. New Hampshire’s tuition assistance programs, and Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs) can be used for any school, including religious schools.

“New Hampshire has no religious test for tuition aid or EFAs, so the ruling confirms New Hampshire’s position as correct,” said Drew Cline, chair of the state Board of Education.

According to Andrew Wimer with the Institute for Justice, New Hampshire changed its laws on tuition assistance last summer. Wimer said the ruling strengthens New Hampshire’s religious freedom against any future attack.

“Today’s ruling does not change anything in New Hampshire, but does ensure that if a future legislature were to put the same restrictions back in place it would likely be found unconstitutional,” he said.

The law change came after the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Croydon couple Dennis and Cathy Griffin who wanted to send their grandson to a private Catholic school, Mount Royal Academy.

“We are happy the legislature did the right thing in removing politics from school funding by allowing individual choice on how our tax dollars are applied to our children’s education,” said Dennis Griffin said last year. “Cathy and I feel Mount Royal Academy is the best choice for our grandson’s education and the government should not be restricting the use of our tax dollars from funding our choice.”

Croydon, a town of about 700 people, does not operate a middle school, instead giving families tuition money they can use to send their child to a school in another district. But Croydon’s School Board refused to give the family the money because Mount Royal is Catholic, and New Hampshire at the time still had an anti-Catholic law on the books

Most of the laws prohibiting states from using public money for private religious schools come from a anti-Catholic movement started in the 1870s by U.S. Rep. James Blaine, a powerful Republican from Maine. Blaine’s response to the immigration of Catholic and Jewish families from Europe was to endorse a nativist movement to make sure the immigrant schools would not get any funding.

At the time, many public schools taught a form of Protestant Christianity.

New Hampshire’s Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut applauded the ruling, saying it affirms New Hampshire in its commitment to religious freedom.

“Schools of all kinds – public, non-public, religious or non-religious – have the distinct duty and ultimate responsibility to provide the best education possible for their students. This Supreme Court ruling clarifies what has always been so — that we do not discriminate against anyone, period. This ruling will ensure that school choice remains an opportunity for every student throughout the nation, and that there will be equality available among all educational institutions. There is no place for discrimination here in New Hampshire.”

New Hampshire Democrats were largely silent on the decision, with no member of the state’s federal delegation making any mention of it. They also declined to respond to requests for comment.

Granite State Democrats have long opposed school choice, especially the funding for parents who want to send their children to religious schools. During the debate over EFAs last year, state Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye) complained, “There’s just no accountability to property taxpayers whose money is being used for private, religious and home school.” 

Sherman is now the Democratic nominee for governor.

Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) specifically cited the anti-Catholic “Blaine Amendment” language in the state constitution in her opposition to the EFA program.

“The New Hampshire Constitution prohibits taxpayer dollars from being directed to private or religious schools. Now more than ever, when legislators on both sides of the aisle have identified property taxpayer relief as a priority, it is difficult to understand why we would remove safeguards for the use of taxpayer dollars and ask hardworking Granite Staters to pay for the private education of other children and families.”

And former state Rep. Tamara Meyer Le (D-North Hampton) was removed from the House Education Committee in 2019 after a profanity-laced social media rant against private and religious education. “F*** private and religious schools,” Le wrote.

No Deal Likely in Exeter “Two Genders” Lawsuit

A Superior Court judge has ordered mediation in the lawsuit brought after Exeter High School officials punished a Catholic student for saying there are two genders.

However, Ian Huyett, the attorney for the student and his family, says a settlement is unlikely given Exeter’s current stance, expressed in a recent letter to the school community.

“Given the contents of the letter that (Superintendent) David Ryan sent out on Wednesday, I don’t anticipate that they’ll have any interest in doing that,” Huyett said. 

Ryan sent the letter last week, doubling down on the district’s stated embrace of diversity after Judge David Ruoff issued the scheduling order, which stipulates the two sides attempt to settle the case through an Alternative Dispute Resolution.

“Despite our best intentions to create a safe and welcoming environment for all in our community, we have members in our community who continue to experience feelings of hate and disrespect,” Ryan wrote. “We are a community of acceptance. This means we welcome you with all of your uniqueness, no matter your race, religion/spiritual beliefs, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability/disability, or family structure.”

The student, known in the lawsuit as M.P., claims he was disciplined for expressing his views, informed by his Catholic faith, that there are only two genders. M.P. claims he expressed these views outside of school and off the football field.

Exeter High School and SAU 16 officials struck back saying M.P. was disciplined for being a bully, not for expressing his religious views. The district’s attorney, Michel Eaton claims M.P. is not the victim of religious discrimination. Instead, he was benched for one game by his coach for violating the team’s code of conduct. The benching had nothing to do with the school’s transgender discrimination policies, according to Eaton.

“M.P.’s coach did not decide to bench M.P. based upon M.P.’s opinion that there are only two genders, nor would he. Rather, M.P. was benched for using crude, inappropriate, and disrespectful language while communicating with Student Doe. This behavior was consistent with M.P.’s documented history of bullying and inappropriate behavior, including such behavior on the school bus and such behavior targeted at Student Doe specifically,” Eaton wrote in the district’s response to the lawsuit.

Student Doe, who is not transgendered, is the student with whom M.P. had a reportedly heated conversation about gender and sexuality while on the school bus. This conversation later continued via text messaging, according to court records. Student Doe, in turn, reported the conversation to M.P.’s coach, Eaton wrote.

“M.P.’s coach took what he believed to be an appropriate and limited remedial measure to teach and ensure the respect that is expected of all student athletes,” Eaton wrote.

Huyett claims in the lawsuit that M.P. was punished for expressing his opinion, not for violating any rule.

“M. P. did not harass or demean any student, but simply expressed his views on a contentious cultural issue,” Huyett said in a statement.

Huyett is an attorney with Cornerstone, a conservative Christian organization. While Cornerstone is defending M.P.’s First Amendment rights in this case, the state’s ACLU has been silent. Instead, New Hampshire’s ACLU is part of a federal lawsuit, along with Exeter’s Andres Mejia, against the state over the so-called “banned concepts” law. Mejia is the director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, and a board member of the Black Lives Matter Seacoast organization.

The anti-discrimination law challenged by the ACLU and Mejia, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu as part of the state budget, prohibits students from 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.”

Families, Students Push Back on Efforts to Repeal EFAs

New Hampshire parents and students crowded the State House Tuesday to testify against Democratic Sen. Jay Kahn’s bill to repeal the state’s Education Freedom Accounts.

“I implore you, do not eliminate the Education Freedom Accounts, this program helps so many students and their families,” said Emma Jackson, a sophomore at Holy Family Academy in Manchester. 

Jackson, like many students who testified, has been able to go to a private school for the first time thanks to the EFA’s. The program “funds students instead of systems,” as school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis of the American Federation for Children puts it. The state’s share of a child’s public school funding follows the student to other education options like private or home schooling.

The program, in its first year, has more than 1,600 participants.

“Currently, most of the families that are using the Education Freedom Accounts are low-income families,” said Kate Baker Demers, executive director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund of New Hampshire.

Baker Demers said low-income families have struggled for years to get their children into schools where they can learn. They have also struggled to get their children the right education materials. Now they have the freedom to make the best choices for their families, she said.

“The families that are using them are extremely grateful and think it is right and just that they have access to their education funding,” she said.

Kahn, a Keene Democrat, is concerned that the success of the program will spell trouble for taxpayers down the road. He said the program is costing more than $8 million this year and is expected to double next year. On top of that, Kahn said, the state has cut funding for public education by more than $80 million in the current two-year budget. 

“Every child deserves access to an adequate education, but this isn’t the way to do it,” Kahn said.

Meanwhile, per pupil spending on k-12 education has risen during Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration to the highest level ever.

New Hampshire’s public schools lost more than 8,000 students in the last year as more parents grew frustrated with COVID-19 imposed-remote learning, among other problems. Baker Demers said parents realized during the pandemic that there are more options than their local public schools that fit their family needs better, and those options were finally within reach.

“They didn’t have these options without the EFAs,” she said.

Some Democrats opposed to EFA’s, like Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough) send their own children to private schools while opposing allowing state funding to follow low-income kids to these same schools.

“I certainly understand the need for families to find an alternative to public schools to meet the needs of their children,” Porter testified. “My own two children attended the same public school where I taught. My daughter was fine with it, but not so my son. He was experiencing difficulties, so we sent him to a local private school until he was middle school age. It was good that we had that option.”

Porter has filed a bill in the House to prevent local property taxes from going to religious schools, harkening back to 1870s efforts to stop Catholic schools from receiving public funding. A 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found a state cannot prevent money from going to religious schools if it offers parents grants for education. 

Rep. Rosemarie Rung (D-Merrimack) mocked families who need the grants on Twitter, calling EFA’s handouts.

“My parents sent all 4 of their kids to Catholic school on a USAF officer salary and they would never, ever expect a government handout to do so,” Rung wrote on Twitter.

Baker Demers said low-income families deserve equal opportunities when it comes to education, and EFAs provide those opportunities.

“That’s the point, to overcome those inequalities,” she said.

“These are students who struggled in their old learning environment for a variety of reasons from bullying, learning difficulties, or health concerns,” said Sarah Scott from Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire. AFP-NH was heavily involved in the passage of EFAs and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation spent last summer spreading awareness of the new program to parents.

Families, Scott says, “are ecstatic to have been given the chance to have their children learn in a setting that helps them to thrive.”

Kahn said EFA’s downshift costs for public education onto local property taxpayers, an assertion advocates deny. Sen. Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford) said the tax money is following the child through the system, and it will not result in higher taxes.

That is true in part because, while state funding follows the student, local funding remains in the schools. As a result, every student who uses an EFA leaves behind around $10,000 or more for their former school to spend on the remaining students. More money, but fewer students.

Regardless of the math or the praise of parents, the state’s teachers unions still oppose the EFA program.

This is a multi-million-dollar example of failed leadership that will ultimately hurt our kids,” said Meg Tuttle, president of the NEA-NH, the state’s largest teachers union. 

Tuttle did not elaborate on how families choosing what they believe are better education choices for their children “will hurt kids.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) was a  prime sponsor of the legislation creating EFA’s last year. He made it clear this week he will fight to keep the program operating.

“Our Education Freedom Accounts have proven to be more successful than anyone imagined. Currently, 1,635 students are enrolled in the EFA program, giving working families the power to choose the best educational path for them,” Bradley said. “The pandemic has shown us the need for greater educational options, especially for families who traditionally could not afford the choices wealthier families have always had.  EFA’s provide that pathway. Students of hard-working families of modest means deserve the opportunity for education choices that best suit their needs.”