N.H. ‘Teacher Loyalty’ bill would restrict how U.S. history, especially racism, can be discussed in school
Just one year after New Hampshire legislators first introduced a bill that banned the teaching or discussion of “divisive concepts” like systemic racism, another bill will be debated this legislative session that would take those restrictions further.
The proposed bill, HB 1255, is titled “An Act Relative to Teachers’ Loyalty,’ and seeks to ban public school teachers from promoting any theory that depicts U.S. history or its founding in a negative light, including the idea that the country was founded on racism. The bill updates a piece of Cold War-era law that bans educators from advocating for communism in schools, and adds additional bans on advocating for socialism and Marxism.
“No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices,” the text of the proposed bill reads. “Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism.”
The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Alicia Lekas (R-Hudson), said in a phone interview Friday that she wants to bring the bill to the 2022 legislative session because she disagrees with the way history is being taught in public schools today.
“Too often I’m running into too many students who don't know anything about real history and stuff like that, because teachers spend too much time indoctrinating students about political things, which I don't think teachers should be doing,” Lekas said.
Lekas believes that although slavery was a negative chapter in U.S. history, the historical context of the time isn’t given enough weight when it’s taught to students.
“Slavery was a terrible thing, but a lot of people don’t know slavery happened all over the world, that’s the setting you need to be teaching,” Lekas said. “If you’re going to teach about the founding of the country you need to teach it in its proper setting so you know what was happening in the rest of the world so you have a better idea of why people did the way they did.”
The bill was co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Keith Ammon (New Boston), who introduced last year’s divisive concepts bill, and fellow GOP Reps. Glenn Cordelli (Tuftonboro), Erica Layon (Derry) and Tony Lekas (Hudson).
Last year’s divisive concepts bill was modified and ultimately passed through a rider bill to the state budget, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu, which also included the state’s first abortion ban. The Department of Education has now set up a web page where parents can report a teacher who might indicate that any group of people is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Megan Tuttle, president of the National Education Association New Hampshire, the largest teacher’s union in the state, spoke against the proposed bill in a statement Friday, calling it “anti-freedom.”
“New Hampshire educators want to provide every child an accurate and quality education that imparts honesty about who we are and integrity in how we treat others,” Tuttle said. “Certain politicians want to censor the truth of our history, and pass laws to ban learning from the mistakes of our past and erase leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. who stood up to racism and changed our country for the better.”
Deb Howes, president of American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire, said in a phone interview Friday that she is concerned about the impact the bill will have on a teacher’s ability to facilitate classroom conversations about historical topics.
“It’s a further attempt to intimidate teachers, to bully them into being silent,” Howes said. “It is clear that some of our legislators don't want public school teachers to go anywhere near honest discussions about race in schools, which is a disservice to all of our students. Race exists, racism exists and and if we ignore the fact that it has been a part of our history and still exists now, we are not doing our job as educators.”
Empowered by the new divisive concepts law, officially called the “Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education Law,” Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut created web page last month that links to a form where parents and students can report teachers for alleged discrimination under the new law. NEA-NH and AFT-NH came out strongly against the move and Howes called on Edelblut to resign, saying he had declared a “war on teachers.”
Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, also criticized the bill Friday, calling the legislation “Orwellian.”
“We are better as a state and community when we can have hard conversations and learn from them—which is why it’s so important that our students get a full picture of America’s history that includes both the good and the bad,” Chaffee said in a statement. “This bill would unconstitutionally restrict New Hampshire teachers from covering America’s legacy of racism and slavery, building on the disturbing trend we’ve seen this year of putting teachers at risk of professional discipline and lawsuits for teaching about these difficult topics.”
State Rep. Alicia Lekas said the additional ban on advocating for socialism and Marxism on top of the pre-existing ban on promoting communism, came from a desire for specificity.
“We are not a socialist country and socialism does so many harms,” Lekas said. “You look at all the socialist countries in the world and all the harms that come to them... I hate to see our country fail and I hate to see us moving in directions that history tells us fails.”
When asked if she thinks the bill could have a chilling effect on teaching about parts of early American history, Lekas said she doesn’t believe it will, as long as educators are teaching a “proper history.”
“It doesn’t keep a teacher from teaching history, it just says if you are going to teach it, you gotta do a good job of it,” Lekas said. “You can’t teach one-sided history.”
The proposed bill will be heard in the House Education Committee in January.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.