New state law will leave public schools 'in shreds', Lenore Patton, Portsmouth Herald, 2/3/12

posted Feb 3, 2012, 5:01 AM by Bill Duncan

New state law will leave public schools 'in shreds'
February 03, 2012 2:00 AM

Jan. 31 — To the Editor:

I am writing this letter in response to one written by state Sen. Nancy Stiles, which appeared recently in this newspaper. Sen. Stiles wrote in support of HB 542, which allows parents to file an objection to any course material and requires a school district to devise an alternative acceptable to the parent.

In making my comments, I rely on a policy brief titled HB 542 and Parental Control: "Shredding" the Public School Curriculum. This brief was written by two University of New Hampshire faculty members: Todd A. DeMitchell, professor of education law and policy, and Joseph Onosko, associate professor of social studies education.

DeMitchell and Onosko quote Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in the case McCollum v. Board of Education. "If we are to eliminate everything that is objectionable to any (person) or is inconsistent with any of their doctrines, we will leave the public schools in shreds."

DeMitchell and Onosko highlight defects in HB 542 that make it vulnerable to legal challenge. "The foregoing analysis demonstrates that the courts have consistently ruled that the power to determine the curriculum of the public school rests with the community's elected school board. Parents who bring lawsuits to the courts claiming they have the right to dictate the content of the curriculum and/or the instruction typically lose."

DeMitchell and Onosko also cite major problems in attempting to implement HB 542. "How does a teacher or a school provide an alternative to a whole language approach to reading instruction? How many different approaches must a teacher provide in a class of 25 students? How can a teacher possibly organize and teach multiple and, at times, conflicting approaches to reading instruction? With every new instruction that results in an alternative plan, the school's curriculum becomes increasingly balkanized, contradictory, and undeliverable."

Despite these glaring defects, Republicans in the state House and Senate overrode Democratic Gov. Lynch's veto; HB 542 is now state law. This new law and education policies soon to be presented this term in the Legislature clearly demonstrate Republicans' express desire to undermine the public school system in New Hampshire and to support in its stead private schools and home schooling.

In addition to Sen. Stiles, the following Seacoast House Republicans voted to override Gov. Lynch's veto of HB 542. Hampton: Nevins, Rice, Sheffert, Sullivan and Waddell. Rye/New Castle: Murphy and Smith. All six Democrats from Portsmouth/Newington who voted (Cali-Pitts, DiPentima, Norelli, Pantelakos, Read and Serlin), opposed HB 542 by voting to sustain Gov. Lynch's veto.

Lenore Patton