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Teachers’ union and parents sue N.H. officials over law restricting teachings on racism, oppression

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Joe Gratz
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A New Hampshire teachers’ union is suing state officials over a law restricting certain teachings on race, racism, and other forms of oppression. The American Federation of Teachers – New Hampshire filed the lawsuit along with several parents and teachers in federal court.

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The lawsuit alleges the law prevents teachers from meeting certain state educational standards, such as teaching about bigotry and discrimination. It also alleges that it violates teachers’ constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

It names three state officials involved in enforcing the law: Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, Attorney General John Formella, and Christian Kim, who chairs the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights.

The law in question – called the ‘Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education’ – was passed as part of the state budget in June. It prohibits teachers from teaching that any one group is inherently racist or superior, and from teaching that people should not attempt to treat those in certain groups “without regard” to their differences.

Gov. Chris Sununu issued the following statement about the law in light of the lawsuit:

“Nothing in this language prevents schools from teaching any aspect of American history, such as teaching about racism, sexism, or slavery — it simply ensures that children will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sexual identity, or religion.”

But the lawsuit says that despite several efforts by the Attorney General to clarify the statute and explain what can be taught, “the overbreadth and ambiguity of the statute makes it impossible for teachers to follow and highly susceptible to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement…” The result, the plaintiffs claim, is a chilling effect on lessons and classroom discussions.

The lawsuit points to a page on the New Hampshire Department of Education website for parents and students to lodge a complaint against a teacher who may have violated the law and alleges this has helped facilitate “improper filing of complaints,” such as those from conservative activists who offered money to the first person who “catches” teachers violating the law.

The plaintiffs ask the court to prevent enforcement of the law or to clarify that it does not prohibit teachers from teaching curricula mandated or permitted under other state laws.

The lawsuit is one of the first in the country against this kind of law. Similar legislation banning certain kinds of teaching on race and racism emerged across the country this year. Conservatives who championed the laws allege that public schools indoctrinate and divide students through diversity and equity initiatives.

Civil rights and teachers’ groups in Oklahoma sued over a similar law in October. New Hampshire’s largest teachers’ union – the NEA-NH – says it is also considering challenging the law in court.

The New Hampshire Department of Education said it could not comment on pending litigation. A member of the Attorney General’s office said they had not yet read the lawsuit but will “review the lawsuit and defend the law.”