The Story Behind Will Smith's bill, HB 1461

posted Jan 28, 2012, 9:42 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 4, 2012, 9:06 AM ]
Rep. Will Smith has told the story many times, including in testimony to the House Education Committee, of a Rye parent who objected to a school presentation and got no satisfaction from the school system when she objected.  As Rep. Smith tells it, the parent went to the teacher, the principal, the superintendent and the school board and they all rebuffed her.

Actually, that is the opposite of what happened.  The Rye school system is rigorous in following the state law on holding and allowing parents to opt out of sex presentations. One Rye mother said they send, if anything, too many notices of upcoming presentations, allowing parents to preview them, opt their kid out, etc.
But, last year, a presentation on bullying, a panel provided by an LGBT group that has done it for lots of schools for many years, made allusions to bullying of gays. Since it wasn't a sex education presentation, it fell outside the usual procedures and slipped through without pre-notification of parents. 

There were many communications with supportive feedback about the presentation but one parent did object. That objection was forwarded to everyone, including the school board, which discussed it in detail at its next meeting. They instructed the staff not to let this happen again and sent a letter of explanation to all parents (below).

All in all, you get the feeling of an earnest and conscientious group of people who would be sincerely horrified that a parent could be dissatisfied with the outcome of a communication with the school district. Just the opposite of what Will said. 

The Rye school district's well established policies concerning notification of parents if any sensitive material is to be presented are attached below.

(In addition to this letter to all parents, the principal corresponded directly with the unhappy parent.)

April 8, 2011

Dear 8th Grade Parents,

As you may know, Rye Junior High has had a C.A.R.I.T. (Courtesy, Accountability, Respect, Integrity, and Tolerance) Committee supporting the students for many years. This year the committee has been focused on bullying prevention in our school.

As part of that commitment, on Monday, April 4th, our 8th grade students attended a presentation by Seacoast Outright.  Seacoast Outright is an organization that supports Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered (GLBT) youth and their allies.  This group has been offering educational and supportive programs to the Seacoast area for fifteen years including a number of area schools.  The presentation is a panel discussion that addresses issues of bullying. 

It was an oversight on the C.A.R.I.T. committee’s part not to notify parents of this presentation before it took place.  We apologize for this oversight.

The comments from our students were positive and supportive of the presenters.  It is clear from the students’ written reflections that they gained sensitivity and awareness toward bullying and diversity.

The committee thanks you for your continued support of our efforts.  In the future, events or speakers that present sensitive issues for middle school students will include parent notification.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.



Chris Pollet

Rye Junior High Principal

Jeanne Brown, Alison Dunn, Katie Jarvis, Sally O’Brien, Kerri Ridolfi, Janet Smith

The C.A.R.I.T Committee