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Ed Funding Lawsuits Aim at Pushing More Local School Costs onto State

The way New Hampshire funds education could be completely upended as two separate lawsuits advance in court. One suit seeks to halt education property tax rates and the other attempts to increase the amount the state pays per pupil. 

Plaintiffs in the Grafton County education lawsuit are set to argue Friday that the state should not be able to set a rate for the Statewide Education Property Tax (SWEPT), arguing the tax is unconstitutional as implemented.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Sununu won’t be forced to sit for a deposition in the Contoocook Valley Regional School District lawsuit. Rockingham Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled the plaintiff school districts failed to show the governor is in possession of any unique knowledge.

Both lawsuits are attempting to force the state to pay more of the costs for local schools, with plaintiffs in both cases alleging the state has never followed the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s rulings in the 1980s and 1990s Claremont cases.

The Grafton County case involves several state residents who are also commercial and residential property owners. They claim New Hampshire is violating the 1997 Supreme Court’s Claremont II decision.

In Claremont, the court ruled New Hampshire has a constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education. That decision found, in part, that the use of local property taxes with varying rates to pay for the state’s obligation to provide its students with an adequate education is unconstitutional.

The ConVal case, which now includes dozens of school districts as plaintiffs, seeks to force the state to increase the per-pupil grants for an adequate education from $3,600 per pupil to around $10,000 per pupil, alleging the current grant does not cover the necessary services.

According to attorneys in the Grafton County case, Andru Volinsky, John Tobin, and Natalie Laflamme, the state continues to ignore the Supreme Court by using varying rates for the SWEPT, which in effect continues to punish poor communities with lower property values.

“Ever since (Claremont II,) the state has tried numerous mechanisms to avoid implementing an equitable tax system that would have the effect of imposing a fairer tax burden on wealthier towns, requiring the courts to intervene and protect the constitutional rights of New Hampshire citizens. Now, the state is primed to once again impose a tax using the same mechanisms previously held unconstitutional that will result in some taxpayers paying up to seven times as much for education funding as their wealthier counterparts,” the attorneys write in a new filing with Grafton County Superior Court.

The Grafton County plaintiffs are now seeking an injunction to prevent the state from setting a tax rate, asking the court to keep the SWEPT rate at $0. A hearing on the injunction is set for Friday.

The SWEPT accounts for 30 percent of education funding in New Hampshire. The tax started in 1999 as a response to the Claremont decisions, which found the state has a constitutional obligation to fund an adequate education. The money raised, more than $360 million estimated in the coming year, is used to fund state adequacy grants.

According to the plaintiffs, wealthy communities raise more funds per pupil through SWEPT than the state’s low standard for what it asserts is the cost of a state-funded adequate education. And since 2011, the state has allowed those wealthy towns to keep the surplus, which flies in the face of the Claremont decisions, according to the motion.

“The SWEPT tax as currently administered is not uniform in rate as the state allows towns with surplus SWEPT funds to either set a negative local education tax rate to offset the state’s official equalized SWEPT tax rate or retain the excess,” the motion states. “Both of these mechanisms have been previously deemed unconstitutional by New Hampshire courts.”

In the ConVal case, the plaintiffs sought to depose Sununu in order to get him to testify about the reasons he vetoed a bill that would have increased education spending by $140 million. The bill would have paid for the increase by rolling back some of Sununu’s business tax cuts.

Ruoff found the plaintiffs did not articulate how Sununu’s veto was directly related to the issues involved in the lawsuit, like funding for transportation, meals, and other necessary services.

Ruoff has already found the state is not following the Claremont decisions and that it is unconstitutionally underfunding education. The ConVal case is slated for trial in the spring to try and determine what the adequate education grant should be per pupil. 

COVID Classroom Lockdowns Blamed for Record Low Test Scores

Decades of educational gains were lost during the COVID-19 classroom lockdowns, leaving vulnerable students with learning gaps that will last a lifetime, according to new data out this week. 

The National Assessment of Education Progress report, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education, shows test scores for nine-year-old students declined five points in reading and seven points in math compared to 2020. According to NAEP, that is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first-ever score decline in mathematics.

In an odd twist, Democrats who pushed to keep classrooms closed are now blaming Republicans for school shutdowns.

Dr. Aaron Pallas, a professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, told The Wall Street Journal it could take decades for these students to close the learning gaps, if ever. “I don’t think we can expect these 9-year-olds to catch up by the time they leave high school. This is not something that is going to disappear quickly.”

New Hampshire’s Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the results are not surprising given the long school shutdowns and remote learning challenges from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“COVID negatively affected student performance across the board and exacerbated systemic problems in achievement that preceded COVID, notably high performing students–top quartile–holding steady or making modest gains/losses while bottom quartile students–those already the most vulnerable–are falling farther behind,” Edelblut said. “In math, the top 10 percent of students nationwide declined 3 points while the bottom 10 percent declined 12 points. English Language Arts tells a similar story for national trends. Among these declines, black students fared the worst.”

The NAEP scores for New Hampshire students will be released in October.

 Jason Bedrick, the Heritage Foundation research fellow at the Center for Education Policy, says the scores show the depths of the shutdown’s calamity.

“The dismal NAEP scores confirm what we already knew: the unnecessary school closures that the unions demanded were disastrous for children, especially the most disadvantaged. Black and Hispanic students saw two-to-three times the decline of White students. For Black nine-year-olds, for example, nearly three decades of progress in math was wiped out. Proficiency rates were already low. This is a calamity,” Bedrick said.

A calamity the Biden White House is trying to pin on the GOP.

On Thursday, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said it was the Biden administration who re-opened classrooms, and she said it “was the work of Democrats in spite of Republicans.”

In fact, Democrats overwhelmingly supported teachers unions’ efforts to keep classrooms closed long after most European countries had students back in school. In July 2020, the Democratic National Committee even ran TV ads accusing President Trump of trying to re-open classrooms too quickly.

“Desperate to reopen schools because he thinks it will save his reelection, threatening their funding, ignoring how the virus spreads, risking teachers’ and parents’ lives, going against the advice of experts,” the DNC ad says.

Edelblut said he is looking forward and is focused on solutions. He said all options need to be on the table to guarantee that students going forward can get the education they need.

“Recovery back to where we were before COVID should not be our goal. No one was satisfied with that performance. We now have an opportunity to lead and transform the disrupted education system to serve all students, top performers and those who are not finding success in the current system,” Edelblut said.

NH Climbs in Annual “Best State” Rankings

The Granite State is enjoying another win as New Hampshire has been named one of the best states to live by a new WalletHub report.

The report puts New Hampshire 6th in the nation overall and earning strong showings with a 6th ranking for health and education, 5th for safety, and 7th for its economy. New Hampshire comes in 40th in the nation for overall affordability and 36th for quality of life.

WalletHub used data to compare the 50 states based on 52 key indicators of livability. Those indicators range from housing costs and income growth to education rate and quality of hospitals.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are the top three in the 2022 list. Maine and Vermont come in 11th and 12th respectively. Connecticut landed at the 25th spot and Rhode Island trailed the rest of New England with 28th place.

Louisiana, Alaska, and Mississippi were ranked the three worst states on the list.

Kenneth Johnson, professor of Sociology and Senior Demographer at the Carsey School at the University of New Hampshire, said that while New Hampshire ranks well overall, the lack of affordable housing could put a damper on future growth. Currently, New Hampshire’s saving grace is the high cost of living everywhere else in New England.

“(T)here is certainly widespread concern that the lack of affordable housing may limit the ability of families and workers to settle in some areas of New Hampshire. However, it is also important to recognize that many migrants to New Hampshire are coming from Massachusetts from the Boston metro area. Housing costs in the Boston metro area are generally higher than those in New Hampshire,” Johnson said.

New Hampshire ranked 8th in the 2021 WalletHub study, where it also placed well for its economy, education, and health, though last year it also placed 40th for affordability. Robert Ross, the Vice President of Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Clark University said housing affordability is the most important factor when deciding where to live.

“The cost and supply of appropriate housing is a critical matter. In my own life, I have had to reconsider applying for jobs in places where I simply could not find affordable (to me) housing reasonably near where I might work,” Ross said.

New Hampshire is currently experiencing a housing affordability crisis. The rental vacancy rate is less than one percent statewide — the national rate is almost 6 percent — and the high cost of housing is driving employees away from some of the state’s biggest employers.

Gov. Chris Sununu announced a $100 million program to spur housing development and streamline local zoning in the coming months, to add thousands of rental units to the market.

Johnson said despite the high costs, the comparison to Massachusetts helps people decide to move North and further spur the economy.

“So, even though New Hampshire housing is expensive, families from the Boston metro area may still be able to get more house for the same amount of money in New Hampshire. For example, the median price of an owner-occupied house in the three New Hampshire counties just north of the Massachusetts border proximate to the Boston metro area is approximately $100,000 to $150,000 less than the median house value in the three Massachusetts counties in the Boston Metro area that are just to the south of the state line,” Johnson said.

New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate of all 50 states, and has the second lowest crime rate, right behind Maine, according to the report. The Granite State also has the 5th highest rate of people over age 25 who have obtained at least a high school diploma or higher.

New Analysis Ranks New Hampshire’s Public Schools in Top 10

New Hampshire public schools rank among the top 10 in the nation, according to the data analysts at Wallethub.

Using metrics like academic performance, safety, class size, funding, and instructor credentials, the analysis ranked the Granite State as having the nation’s seventh-best school system.

Among New England states, known for high-performing schools, the Granite State ranked third, behind Massachusetts (1) and Connecticut (2). Vermont came in at 11, Maine at 12, and Rhode Island at 16. 

New Hampshire tied for fourth when it came to having the highest median ACT scores, the standardized test that gauges English, mathematics, reading, and scientific reasoning skills and is used for many college admissions. New Hampshire also ranked fourth in best reading scores and third for student-teacher ratio.

New Hampshire does, however, rank poorly when it comes to having a high bullying rate, ranking 47 out of 48 on a best to worst scale.

Despite the two current school funding lawsuits in the state, WalletHub finds New Hampshire to be among one of the bigger spenders in education. It spends about $16,000 per pupil on average, a little less than Massachusetts’s $17,000, and significantly less than Connecticut’s more than $20,000 per pupil.

 

 

Rhode Island spends about $16,000 per pupil, and Maine around $14,000. Vermont spends the least among New England states, averaging $9,300 per pupil.

School spending is not the key factor in having a high-quality education. According to Purdue’s Christine Kiracofe, the director of the university’s Higher Education Ph.D. program, the family and neighborhood count for more than the per pupil spending.

“A lot has to do with how the communities and families that students come from are supported,” Kiracofe said. “When students come to school having had access to an educationally supportive community (access to preschool programs, opportunities for extracurricular learning, museums, educational camps, etc.) they are at a distinct advantage over students who have not had access to these things. Thus, increasing school quality really involves increasing what is available to entire communities.”

Like many states, New Hampshire public schools took a hit during the COVID-19 restrictions, with many students falling behind due to remote learning. Those education gaps are starting to improve, the New Hampshire Department of Education reports.

According to the DOE, 2022 test scores are already showing an improvement over the 2021 data, which recorded declines in student performance at every grade tested. 

This year, however, New Hampshire students in grades three through seven improved their math assessment scores while eighth-grade math scores remained the same. Proficiency scores showed slight gains with 51 percent of third-graders proficient in math in 2022 compared to 45 percent proficient in 2021. 

The older grade levels showed slight declines in English proficiency in 2022, with 49 percent of seventh graders scoring proficient in 2022 compared to 52 percent in 2021. A similar scenario occurred with 46 percent of eighth graders scoring proficient in English in 2022 compared to 49 percent in 2021. 

“Assessment scores are inching upward and returning to near pre-pandemic levels, but it is clear that there is still work to be done to recover from the academic declines that resulted from COVID-19. New Hampshire has not fully regained ground, but these early signs of improvement are promising,” said Frank Edelblut, education commissioner.

NH Kids Recovering – Slowly – From Classroom Lockdown Learning Loss

Students are starting to regain the ground they lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education. But the destructive impacts of classroom lockdowns backed by teacher’s unions continue to be felt.

“Assessment scores are inching upward and returning to near pre-pandemic levels. But it is clear there is still work to be done to recover from the academic declines that resulted from COVID-19,” said Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “New Hampshire has not fully regained ground, but these early signs of improvement are promising.”

In 2021, New Hampshire Statewide Assessment System performance levels dropped at every grade level from third through eighth grade, including both English and math scores. The state completed a comprehensive analysis of those results to help understand how to support students recovering from the pandemic. In 2022, that performance data started to turn around. 

It is hardly a New Hampshire problem. Multiple studies have found online learning was a disaster for K-12 students in response to the COVID pandemic. Learning loss was worst among low-income and minority students, one reason so many parents and supporters of education reform fought against teachers’ union demands to keep classrooms closed. The results were mixed.

The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University reports some one in five U.S. students were enrolled in districts that continued online learning for most of the 2020-21 school year. The learning loss is estimated to be as much as 22 weeks of learning.

In New Hampshire, this year’s early data sets show students in grades three through seven improved their math assessment scores in 2022, while eighth-grade math scores remained at classroom-lockdown levels.

For example, proficiency scores showed small gains with 51 percent of third-graders proficient in math in 2022 compared to 45 percent proficient in 2021. The trend was similar for fourth graders, which showed 48 percent were proficient in math in 2022 compared to 41 percent in 2021. 

COVID gaps remain for many students, however, including at the high school level. The high school junior class 2022 SAT high school assessment data reveals slight declines in reading proficiency in 2022, and more moderate declines in math proficiency–a trend found among other states as well, according to the DOE.

New Hampshire students still performed better on the SAT than students nationally, according to the DOE.

In 2022, New Hampshire’s average reading score on the SAT was 511 compared to 517 in 2021 and 515 in 2019. The average math score for 2022 was 492 compared to 509 in 2021 and 508 in 2019. 

“We know that these students, who will be starting their senior year in a few weeks, have had a high school career filled with disruptions, remote classes, and missed learning. We also know that SAT participation dropped in New Hampshire to about 82 percent in 2022” said Edelblut. “While many states have seen an overall decline in SAT scores, New Hampshire scores continue to remain comparatively high.”

Individual school and district data for both the NHSAS and SAT results will be released in the fall through the iPlatform system.

 

Dems Attack Smith’s Dad-Daughter Cameo in Education TV Ad

Democrats are mocking U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Smith over his appearance in a commercial for an education app that helps students complete their homework.

Gates MacPherson, deputy communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, tweeted a screenshot of the ad Smith made for education company Brainly

“In addition to running as a B-tier Senate candidate, Kevin Smith is also a… paid actor, according to his personal financial disclosure, and made $900 from the New England Models Group for appearing in an ad,” MacPherson tweeted.

Smith took the Democratic Twitter snark in stride, saying he only appeared in the ad to support his daughter, who was being featured by Brainly. The ad partially deals with struggles faced by students due to classroom lockdowns — a policy promoted and defended by Democrats like U. Sen. Maggie Hassan.

 

“While my acting career was short-lived and in support of my daughter, Maggie Hassan’s election year act is alive and well, although widely panned by critics,” Smith said.

A wave of post-lockdown research shows critics of closing classrooms were correct: The policy took a disastrous toll on low-income and disadvantaged students but did little to stop the spread of COVID-19.

According to Smith’s campaign, his daughter Lindsay was chosen to be in the ad. COVID procedures mandated that the producers use real parents instead of actors for the parents. 

“While the Democrats and their Teachers Union counterparts were desperately fighting to keep schools shuttered, Kevin’s daughter was chosen to appear in an ad for a remote-learning education platform. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the company required actual parents to appear in the ads with their children, and Kevin was proud to support and appear alongside his daughter in that ad,” said Seb Rougemont with Smith’s team.

“As the proud father of three children in Londonderry public schools, Kevin cares deeply about their education and the education of all students across New Hampshire. Is this seriously what the New Hampshire Democrats are spending their time attacking?”

Brainly offers a peer-to-peer learning platform to support students, teachers, and parents. The company claims to have 350 million users which would make it the biggest online learning platform in the world.

Smith is running in a crowded field to challenge Democrat Hassan. While MacPherson and state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley have slammed Smith, Senate President Chuck Morse, and retired Brigadier General Don Bolduc as “B-tier” candidates, recent polling suggests Hassan is a “C-tier” incumbent at best.

Despite her 99 percent name ID, Hassan leads Smith by just one point, 45-44 percent, according to the Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. She is leading Bolduc 47-46 percent, and she is actually losing to Morse 44-46 percent.

The attack also opens the door for Smith and his fellow Republicans to hit back. President Joe Biden is imposing new rules on charter schools that will make it harder for them to accommodate more students. As the liberal New York Times reports:

“Rules proposed by the Education Department to govern a federal grant program for charter schools are drawing bipartisan backlash and angering parents, who say the Biden administration is seeking to stymie schools that have fallen out of favor with many Democrats but maintain strong support among Black and Latino families.”

Asked by NHJournal if she supports the new rules, Hassan declined to respond.

“Hassan’s flacks are attacking an education TV ad while her Joe Biden and her party bosses attack charter schools, keeping communities from getting the quality education and classrooms they need,” Smith said.

New Scholarship Program Tackles NH COVID Learning Loss

Students suffering the effects of the long COVID lockdowns are getting some help, thanks to a New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) scholarship program. 

The Yes, Every Student (YES!) scholarship program is designed to help families and residents whose education was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by awarding $1,000 tutoring scholarships to New Hampshire students, which includes public, non-public, home education, and Education Freedom Account students. It is the second year in a row the Department of Education has offered the scholarships.

“Although it has been two years since the start of the pandemic, some students may still feel that they are not meeting their desired academic performance,” said DOE Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “These scholarships will be used to help children that may have experienced disrupted learning and provide them with individualized tutoring and support to target their unique educational needs.”

Andrew Yates with the national education non-profit yes. every kid praised New Hampshire’s scholarship program.

“We commend Commissioner Edelblut for putting forward a universal scholarship program to help all NH students seek tutoring services to help combat Covid learning loss,” Yate said. “Every family and student has faced unique challenges during this pandemic, and we support allowing all students the opportunity to find the best pathways to their educational success.”

According to a recent Harvard study, students in K through 12 schools that went remote during the pandemic have fared worse than students who stayed in school, losing ground in math and reading.

“In districts that went remote, achievement growth was lower for all subgroups, but especially for students attending high-poverty schools. In areas that remained in person, there were still modest losses in achievement, but there was no widening of gaps between high and low-poverty schools in math,” the study states.

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and philanthropist, recently noted that students in high poverty areas who were abandoned to online learning have experienced an education gap that will impact them for decades.

“In K through 12, we have a learning deficit that will take us a long time to erase, and sadly it’s a deficit that in the inner city is almost two years,” Gates said.

According to a report from the consulting firm McKinsey, the learning gap experienced by school students now, especially minority students, threatens economic depression in the years to come.

“Our analysis shows that the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year,” the report states.

Parents in New Hampshire responded to closed classrooms and learning loss by fleeing the public school system.

“Until the pandemic, enrollment decline in New Hampshire was relatively slow but steady: between 0 and 2 percent each year,” NHPR reported. “But in 2020, enrollment declined by 4.5 percent, about 8,200 fewer students in one year.”

The scholarships from the Department of Education can be used for tutoring as well as special education therapies and services. The state has about $2.3 million in funding from the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund under the CARES Act for the scholarships. Last year, the DOE awarded nearly $1.9 million to almost 500 recipients for tutoring and other needs.

To apply for a Yes! scholarship, visit Yes, Every Student. Please email questions to [email protected]

Despite Court Ruling, House Dems to Keep Fighting For COVID Exceptions

Democrats are vowing to keep up the fight over COVID-19 restrictions at the State House even as more voters are ready for an end to pandemic living.

On Monday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston denied New Hampshire Democrats an injunction against House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry). Democrats have been pushing for Packard to allow for remote attendance for legislators. House Minority Leader Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) responded by saying he would continue the remote legislation lawsuit.

“While we are disappointed that the First Circuit denied our request for a preliminary injunction, it is important to note that the court did not rule that disabled people must risk death to serve in the legislature and represent their constituents. The court’s decision only related to a preliminary injunction, not the Speaker’s denial of minimal accommodations for representatives with disabilities,” Cote said in a statement.

Cote, 61, lives with cerebral palsy and has not been to Concord for a vote in more than two years. He did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Packard successfully argued that as Speaker he enjoys “legislative immunity” and is exempt from following the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore the injunction fails.

“This opinion reaffirms the importance of the integrity of the legislature and the legislative process. Both the First Circuit and District Court evaluated the plaintiffs’ arguments and ruled against them. My next step is to continue working on legislation that will benefit the state of New Hampshire and keep pushing us forward,” Packard said in a statement.

Spencer Kimball, an associate professor at Emerson College and the director of the school’s polling center, said the politics of the pandemic have shifted away from favoring Democrats as the virus has become less threatening.

“I have been looking at COVID restrictions and see a big difference nationally between Democratic voters where 38 percent see COVID as a major health threat, while that number is about 17 percent among independents and 14 percent among Republicans,” Kimball said.

The COVID-19 virus seems to be in retreat, with cases and hospitalizations dropping drastically in recent weeks across the country and in New Hampshire.

Earlier this week, state Sen. Tom Sherman, (D-Rye) who is running to unseat Gov. Chris Sununu, was asked if he would impose a mask mandate “on day one” after taking office. “It really depends on the numbers,” Sherman said. “You have to look at what’s called the epidemiology, which is how pervasive is it in the community.

“If the numbers say it is [necessary], then we may need to do that, but that would not be my first response, Sherman added.

Kimball said, with the threat perception changing, COVID restrictions could be a loser for Democrats heading into the midterms.

“Democrats may be overplaying their COVID hand, but if COVID was to increase they may find themselves in a stronger position. Time will tell,” Kimball said.

In New Hampshire, most adults have some level of protection against COVID-19, according to recent UNH Survey Center data.

Currently, one-quarter (of adults) say they have tested positive for COVID since the pandemic began. Six in 10 adults say they are vaccinated and boosted, another 17 percent are vaccinated but not boosted, and 22 percent are not vaccinated at all. Overall, seven in eight Granite Staters likely have some protection against COVID-19 through vaccination or recent infection,” The UNH data report states. 

David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University Political Research Center, said Democrats need to be alert to parents who are tired of mask mandates and school lockdowns harming their children.

“It’s hard to say whether or not mask advocacy on its own will be a cutting issue in November. More likely is a scenario where Democrats will say mask policies and required vaccinations ultimately saved lives and Republicans will say that mask mandates were an overreach, setting back education a couple of years,” Paleologos said. 

Democrats who align with teachers unions, which have backed stricter COVID restrictions like remote learning and masking, have had a rough time at the ballot box.

“Traditionally, education and healthcare are wheelhouse issues for the Democratic Party. If Republicans chip away at these two pillar issues (like they did in Virginia and New Jersey last fall), Democrats may face some dark November days,” Paleologos said.

Glenn Youngkin took the Virginia governor’s race, in part, because parents were upset with COVID lockdowns. In New Jersey, incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy barely beat a challenge from Republican Jack Ciattarelli.

Cote took over the leadership after the death of state Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing (D-Hampton.) Cushing died this month following a two-year battle with prostate cancer. His family told The New York Times Cushing’s death was partially brought on by complications from COVID-19.

Cushing first brought the lawsuit to the federal court and pushed for a ruling on the appeal for the injunction ahead of the current legislative session. Even as he was dealing with cancer treatments, Cushing remained active throughout the pandemic, missing few votes over the last two years. 

House Speaker Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack) died from COVID-19 in 2020 shortly after the first socially distanced House session of the biennium at UNH’s athletic complex.

Local ‘Guys & Dolls’ School Dance Cancelled Over Lack of Gender Inclusion

Luck won’t be a lady for anyone in Hampton Falls after the Lincoln Akerman School PTO canceled the Guys & Dolls dance, an annual father-daughter event, due to complaints it is not gender-inclusive.

Parents in this small Granite State community received a letter from the PTO explaining the Guys & Dolls dance, along with the companion mother-son Ladies & Lads dance, ran afoul of the current climate of gender politics.

“The Lincoln Akerman School PTO has received some concerns regarding the lack of gender inclusivity surrounding the Guys & Dolls and Ladies & Lads events at our school,” The PTO letter states. “These long-standing events at LAS have traditionally been separated by gender, but with the asterisk that anyone is is welcome.”

Organizers decided keeping the name and inviting everyone regardless of gender was not an option.  Opening the dance to the entire school would not work due to COVID-19 concerns. Instead, the PTO opted to cancel both dances. Kellie Bove, the Lincoln Akerman School PTO communications director did not respond to a request for comment.

SAU 21 Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said Wednesday the dance is not an official school function, and that the district had no say in it being canceled.

“It’s not something that the school district or administration was involved in,” she said.

School Board Chair Greg Parish did not respond to requests for comment. 

Hampton Falls Selectboard Chair Lou Gargiulo called the dance cancellation silly. He said the dance was called off after one parent complained.

“I’m appalled,” he said. “It’s another silly thing that is going to impede kids from going to an event with their parents.”

Parents and families who bought tickets to the event will get refunds, according to the PTO’s letter, and there will be a COVID-safe alternative event. 

It’s not just in Hampton Falls. Until recently, the Hampton, N.H. Parent-Teacher Association hosted a Father-Daughter Dance, “but the name was changed … to be more inclusive, some saying the move helped avoid triggering traumatic emotions for girls without fathers,” Seacoastonline.com reported. It became the Daughter’s Choice Dance, but that was soon found to be too offensive and the event was renamed the Family Dance.

“The Rollinsford Grade School’s father-daughter dance was also changed to be a daughter’s choice dance after community members were concerned the traditional name was not inclusive enough,” they reported in 2018.

While Lincoln Akerman canceled the dance voluntarily, activists in other states have been forcing father-daughter dances and other gender-specific events to shut down. The New York City Department of Education’s Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Student Guidelines outlaws the dances because they exclude some students, the New York Post reports.

“Father-daughter dances inherently leave people out. Not just because of transgender status, just life in general,” said Jared Fox, the department’s LGBT community liaison. “These can be really uncomfortable and triggering events.”

Last year, Virginia’s Department of Education under then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D), recommended ending all sex segregation at school events, inclining proms and other school dances. Among the recommendations, Virginia’s department wanted to end:

“Grouping students for class activities, gender-based homecoming or prom courts, limitations on who can attend as ‘couples’ at school dances, and gender-based events such as father-daughter dances.” 

Glenn Younkin, Virginia’s newly-elected Republican governor, won a surprise victory in part by promising to let parents make decisions in public schools again.

According to the New Hampshire ACLU,Lincoln Akerman and SAU21 are not among the approximately 60 schools and school districts in New Hampshire to have adopted a full policy on transgender student equality. 

Timberlane Union Prez Decries Parental Involvement as ‘Interference’

The head of the Timberlane Teachers’ Association says teachers should be able to do their job “without interference from parents,” the latest expression of anti-parent sentiment from teachers unions.

Coral Hampe is a Spanish teacher and head of the teachers union at Timberlane High School in Plaistow, N.H. In a message to legislators opposing HB 1015, she described parental and legal oversight as “interference.”

“Your calling is to the legislature. Others are called to medicine. Teachers are called to teach. Let us do our jobs without interference from parents and laws,” Hampe wrote.

Hampe did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, nor did Timberlane School Board Chair Kimberly Farah. The district and the union are currently involved in contentious contract negotiations. 

The law in question, HB 1015, would allow parents to swap out, at their own cost, any material being taught to their child that they find objectionable. The law would require parents to give the school principal written notice about their objection, and it would have the parents and school administration work together to find appropriate replacement material.

“It is appalling, although not surprising, that a teachers’ union believes they are above the law,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, of the bill’s cosponsors. “They want to indoctrinate our children in the same Marxist theories they hold without any recourse. If teachers were actually teaching the facts and leaving their opinions out of their curriculum, they would have nothing to fear. Clearly, that is not the case in our public schools.”

Teachers unions and their allies have become more open in their rejection of the legitimacy of parental involvement in public education. New Hampshire House Democrats are trying to overturn state education rules preventing schools from going to remote learning with some buy-in from parents.

On Monday, the Warner, N.H. Democratic Party tweeted a political cartoon mocking parents who want to review curricula as Confederate-Flag-wearing Trump supporters. The tweet was forwarded by state Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) and several other Democratic committees around the state.

 

The Timberlane Teachers’ Association is part of the American Federation of Teachers – New Hampshire. Deb Howes, president of AFT-NH, did not respond to a request for comment. The AFT-NH’s legislative bulletin includes a misleading statement on the proposed law, claiming it is aimed at stopping current events from being taught in the classroom. 

“We cannot think of anything more damaging to our students than removing a teacher’s ability to use current events to emphasize a topic and help our students relate so they can better understand the material. Are teachers supposed to forgo using current events in the classroom?” The bulletin states.

Current events are not mentioned in the text of the law. Instead, it requires teachers to give parents two weeks’ notice on what will be taught to their children, in order to give parents an appropriate amount of time to review material and ask questions.

Osborne said Hampe’s message betrays how out-of-touch the unions have become in public schools.

“In what world could a business live above the law and not have to answer to the very people who fund them, whether it’s a school, a private business, or even the government? I can’t imagine Market Basket would survive much longer if they wanted to sell groceries without interference from customers,” he said.

The AFT-NH, along with the other teachers’ union, the NEA-NH, are suing the state over the new anti-discrimination law that prohibits teaching any one group is superior or inferior by virtue of their race, creed, or sexual orientation. The lawsuits falsely claim that the state law prohibits teaching “divisive concepts.”

Rep. Kimberly Rice (R-Hudson), another co-sponsor of HB 1015, questioned whether or not Hampe’s statement actually speaks for teachers in the Timberlane district.

“I feel like we have parents and educators pitted against each other and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Rice said.