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Republican bills targeting 'teacher loyalty,' 'objectionable material' roil debate in N.H. State House

School bus in New Hampshire
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR

Skepticism and distrust of public schools and the purported indoctrination of students by teachers animated State House debate before a New Hampshire House Committee Thursday.

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Two bills before the House Education Committee had different aims, but both were rooted in conservative anxiety, much of it presented without evidence, that public schools are teaching liberal ideology.

One bill would broaden parents’ ability to opt their children out of any individual lesson with “objectionable” content. Another would enforce “teacher loyalty” by amending a Cold War-era law by adding new limits on instruction that promotes “a negative account” of the nation’s founding. Both prompted both sharp pushback from teachers and, in the case of the loyalty measure, backtracking by the bill’s sponsors.

As introduced, the teacher loyalty proposal would bar advocacy for “communism, socialism, or Marxism,” or instruction that omits “worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices,” including “teaching that the United States was founded on racism.”

But the measure’s lead sponsor, Rep. Alicia Lekas of Hudson, opened the hearing with an admission: She’s already at work rewriting her bill, which prompted more than 2,200 people to sign in as opposition and 26 in support.

For the many teachers in attendance or watching the remotely, Lekas’s explanation likely struck a “dog ate my homework” note.

“I ran out of time to get this ready,” Lekas explained. “I was down helping my brother, who had heart failure. I was staying with my mom, who did not have internet access, and I was trying to do this on my phone. It was very difficult.”

But Lekas said she remains convinced legislation ensuring “teacher loyalty” is needed in the current political climate.

“It is definitely happening in our state – teachers who are not educating but indoctrinating,” she said

Lekas couldn’t cite a specific example when asked to provide one, but said she’d check her emails and get back to the committee.

But other Republicans backed her claims of inappropriate teaching, even if they failed to offer much evidence for their claims.

“Elements of Critical Race Theory are parts of instruction all over New Hampshire,” Rep. Mike Moffett of Loudon said.

Critical Race Theory, an academic concept centered around the idea that racial bias is embedded in American institutions and legal systems, is not part of New Hampshire primary and secondary school curricula.

Moffett, a former teacher, told the committee he couldn’t support Lekas’s bill as drafted. He said everyone deserves equal treatment under the law but indicated support for monitoring educators who support the Black Lives Matter movement, which he called “a Marxist, racist organization.”

“When teachers display logos or signs defending BLM then they warrant scrutiny, regarding their judgment, their values, and, yes, maybe their loyalty,” Moffett said.

Opponents of the proposal described it as a throwback to the days of Communist witch hunts.

“(Joseph) McCarthy would be very excited by this law,” said Jennifer Given, a history teacher at Hollis Brookline High School.

“I teach my students that there are lines: that slavery was wrong, that Nazis are wrong, that fascism is wrong,” she said. “I do not indoctrinate them, but I do tell them that when people lose their lives for expressing their ideas, that’s wrong. And that’s exactly what this law is attempting to do.”

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