HB 542 (passed over Gov. veto) allowing a parent to object to course material

posted Nov 15, 2011, 2:54 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Aug 2, 2012, 12:35 PM ]
Docket Passed House, later amended to allow parents to opt-out of any “objectionable” course material. Gov. veto sustained in 2011.  On January 4, 2012, the first day of the 2012 session, both houses of the Legislature overrode the Governor's veto.

SPONSOR: Rep. Hoell, Merr 13

(Although Rep. Hoell was originally listed as the prime sponsor, the bill was rewritten by Senator Forsythe and Rep. Flanagan)

Official Analysis: This bill requires school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable. 

August 2, 2012 update: Here is an example of the kind of problem this bill is creating.

Here is the form the bill took after amendment by the House Education Committee.
Here is the form the bill took after amendment by on the Senate Floor.
Here is the final version.

IX-c. Require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable. Such policy shall include a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular subject area. The name of the parent or legal guardian and any specific reasons disclosed to school officials for the objection to the material shall not be public information and shall be excluded from access under RSA 91-A.

DNHPE Comment: This is an effort to undermine public education, pure and simple.  Here's what the Governor says about it.  

And see the very important Policy Brief from Todd A. DeMitchell, Professor of Education Law & Policy, Department of Education, Lamberton Professor, Justice Studies Program at UNH, attached at the bottom of the page.

Here are the advocates  telling fibs about it on the radio.

Since the passage of HB 542, the sponsor has introduced a follow on bill, HB 1575, to enable parents to set up mini private schools within the public school.

A sampling of national and local reaction to HB 542

Here is Senator Forsythe defending HB 542 on KPCC, Southern California Public Radio, 1/27/12

You really don't want to miss this.  The interviewer is great, not aggressive but clear about what the issues are.  Senator Forsythe explains the law as he sees in, in a way you have not heard before.  Well worth the time.

Senator Forsythe refers to the assignment of a short story called "The Crack Cocaine Diet" as one of the pieces of anecdotal evidence supporting the need for HB 542.  He says that, when challenged on the inclusion of the book in the curriculum, the school board said, "Too bad.  It's part of the curriculum."  That's not a reaction you would expect from a New Hampshire school board, so I checked.  Here's the real story:

Reading List Controversy in the Granite State

Parents want School Books Banned

This is another in a long line of mythical stories used to support overreaching legislation.

You be the judge.

This is an telling window into the thinking of the anti-public school libertarian legislators.  JR Hoell introduces his mini-private school idea. 

He also alludes again to the story of the Bedford, NH family who objected to the use of "Nickel and Dimed," a book by Barbara Ehrenreich about how hard it is to live on minimum wage. 

Following the established pattern, the real story is not like my myth retold by advocates.  Here it is.


"Teachers already adjust lessons to meet the needs of different children in their classes. It's amazing to see how talented, dedicated teachers effectively keep the most advanced learners in their classes challenged while also giving extra help to those who need it. The new state law opens to the door to those same teachers being asked to teach a subject such as math in multiple ways, while still meeting the needs of all the children. That's illogical, unfair and counterproductive.

"What I'm really worried about is having a teacher prepare two or three different lessons for that one lesson," School Administrative Unit 16 Superintendent Mike Morgan said at a recent meeting of the Exeter Region Cooperative School Board. "Now, a teacher has to read three different books. What do you do with that?" 

The 2012 legislative season is barely out of the gate, but New Hampshire has sprinted to the lead in crazy, potentially destructive lawmaking.

When Parents Can Opt Out of School Curriculum

"The resulting flurry of argument and debate over the rights of parents in public schools led to New Hampshire legislators passing a law (over a gubernatorial veto) that allows parents to request an alternative school curriculum for any subject to which they register an objection.

"Any subject. Any objection.

"This appears to be the broadest such law in the nation. Many states (including New York) allow parents to opt their children out of sex education classes. Texas allows for the exception of students from any class or activity that “conflicts with a parent’s religious or moral beliefs.” But only New Hampshire permits parents to have their children opt out of anything from the teaching of evolution to the teaching of phonics.

"The mechanics of an “opt-out” are unclear: this is a law created by politicians, not educators. The school district is obligated to develop an alternative plan for each student that still allows the student to meet specific state educational requirements on the subject manner (should they exist). The parent is obligated to pay for the cost of the change. How the cost will be calculated or a new curriculum for one implemented aren’t addressed. But on the substance, the law is clearer. Think your child should be shielded from an understanding of the civil rights movement? Believe spelling is a waste of time in the age of spell check? Just raise an objection, and in New Hampshire, your child should be accommodated.

"That’s the problem. Education isn’t the private right of parents. It’s for students, and for the public good. We, as a nation, have an interest in a well-educated citizenry, and we should have the ability to define that education on a local, state and sometimes national level. Shielding students from information or discussion that conflicts with an individual parent’s view of the world is not in the public interest. You don’t have to live in New Hampshire (as I do) to be concerned about the impact of New Hampshire’s new law, which is at the forefront of a general trend."


At a time of shrinking school budgets why would New Hampshire legislators pass a law that is in clear violation of established law, thereby opening the door to potentially hundreds of lawsuits (and additional costs to taxpayers) because local communities refuse to agree to every parent's request for a modification to their child's public education?
I urge New Hampshire citizens to see where their representatives stand on this new law and the many other education bills working their way through the Legislature. For a full listing of education-related bills, go to the "Defending New Hampshire Public Education" website.
If you're concerned about the shredding of our public schools by state legislators who are ideologically committed to radical notions of individual liberty, then it's time to engage your own citizenship action skills and do something about it.

"This bill that is now in place would allow any parent to object to any course material," said Patty Lovejoy, Cooperative School Board chairwoman. "There is no definition in the bill as to what the reason is or what they consider objectionable. We've always had a parent object to a book in class, when something else can be substituted."


School Board member Townsley Chisholm asked Lovejoy if evolution and sex education could be objected. Lovejoy said "it could be." School Board member Liz Faria suggested it was impossible to object to the teaching of evolution and still meet the state standard, questioning how it would be done.
SAU 16 Superintendent Mike Morgan explained that they are trying to approach this topic carefully and without overreacting. However, he admits that there will be difficulties in approaching the issue.
"What I'm really worried about is having a teacher prepare two or three different lessons for that one lesson," Morgan said. "Now a teacher has to read three different books. What do you do with that? Is it the parent's responsibility to buy the class books?"
Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, chairwoman of the Education Committee, voted in favor of this bill. She said there will be no cost to the district, saying "Superintendents and parents meet all the time for various reasons so it becomes part of their everyday work. I don't see how this is costing taxpayers extra money."
Morgan expressed that there will be indirect costs associated with the policy nonetheless.
"What about the amount of time associated with meeting with parents, indirect costs associated with developing all of this," he said. "There are other costs associated with planning, studying, following through. Even if a child is doing an independent study, someone needs to monitor the independent study. You want to deal with individuals, but in our case, with a very large middle school and high school, you need to try to find what is most important to students."

If HB 542 sounds pretty crazy, it is. I know of no other state in the nation that has enacted such radical and sweeping legislation. Also shocking is that two-thirds of the House and Senate voted to override Governor Lynch’s veto of the bill.

For many decades New Hampshire has competed for the very top spot among our 50 states on National Assessment of Educational Progress and SAT test score results, the two most reliable national indicators of school performance.

If you’re concerned about the current shredding of our public schools by state legislators who are ideologically committed to radical notions of individual liberty (such as HB 542) and the belief that what is good for a community is best achieved by an unregulated, competitive marketplace, then it’s time to engage your own citizenship action skills.

From Jan 4, 2012 Union Leader:

"The bill was inspired by a controversy at Bedford High School, where the parents of a student objected to the book, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America.” The parents, Dennis and Aimee Taylor, complained about language in the book they said was anti-Christian and anti-capitalist. The dispute drew national attention, and the book was removed last January following a review by teachers and administrators, a move that also sparked criticism."

From Jan 3, Blue Hampshire:HB 542 Override.  It wasn't even close.

From School Leadership 2.0 (the same article ran in the Huffington Post)

The Tea Party dominated New Hampshire Legislature on Wednesday overrode the governor's veto to enact a new law allowing parents to object to any part of the school curriculum.

The state House voted 255-112 and Senate 17-5 to enact H.B. 542, which will allow parents to request an alternative school curriculum for any subject to which they register an objection. Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed the measure in July, saying the bill would harm education quality and give parents control over lesson plans.

"For example, under this bill, parents could object to a teacher's plan to: teach the history of France or the history of the civil or women's rights movements," Lynch wrote in his veto message. "Under this bill, a parent could find 'objectionable' how a teacher instructs on the basics of algebra. In each of those cases, the school district would have to develop an alternative educational plan for the student. Even though the law requires the parents to pay the cost of alternative, the school district will still have to bear the burden of helping develop and approve the alternative. Classrooms will be disrupted by students coming and going, and lacking shared knowledge."

Under the terms of the bill, which was sponsored by state Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton), a parent could object to any curriculum or course material in the classroom. The parent and school district would then determine a new curriculum or texts for the child to meet any state educational requirements for the subject matter. The parent would be responsible for paying the cost of developing the new curriculum. The bill also allows for the parent's name and reason for objection to be sealed by the state.

Hoell stressed the new law could allow parents to address both moral and academic objections to parts of the curriculum. The lawmaker said he could imagine the provision being utilized by parents who disagree with the "whole language" approach to reading education or the Everyday Math program.

"What if a school chooses to use whole language and the parent likes phonics, which is a better long-term way to teach kids to read?" Hoell said to HuffPost.

The bill originally included provisions to end compulsory attendance that were taken out by fellow legislators, Hoell noted, saying he would work to address the compulsory attendance issue this year. He said he has seen research showing that non-compulsory attendance equaled better academic performance in Singapore before attendance was required. In addition he noted that it would all bring a market-based approach to education, noting that college and graduate students are not required to attend classes.

"If you can afford it, you go after it," he said.

"Instead of having a reasoned and dispassionate discussion about alternatives, when complaints were made, the parents were falsely accused of trying to ban the book," Hoell wrote. "Rather than find a solution, the parents were forced to remove their son from the public school and instruct him at home."

Hoell also said this bill would allow for parents to object to the distribution of condoms and lubricants in sex education classes. In his veto message, Lynch said that parents can have children opt out of sex education classes, which Hoell disputed in his writing, saying only parents with religious objections could opt out.

The law's passage comes as the New Hampshire legislature has taken a more conservative tone, fueled in part by the election of Tea Party-backed legislators in the 2010 election. Other issues pending before the state government include a bill to only allow legislature-approved candidates to run for the U.S. Senate, an end to the teaching of evolution in the schools and a provision to allow the legislature to dissolve the judiciary. Other bills pushed by Hoell include a provision establishing a committee to study the impact of compulsory school attendance on families, and a measure withdrawing the state from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

State Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley released a statement Wednesday afternoon calling the bill "reckless and irresponsible" and touting his agreement with the conservative-leaning Union Leader, which spoke against Republican lawmakers by objecting to the proposal.

"HB542 is an unprecedented attack on New Hampshire children's right to a quality education," he said. "In fact it will end education in New Hampshire as we know it, allowing children to be removed from any lessons their parents choose: algebra, English language arts, health education, American history, the civil or women's rights movement, science, absolutely anything."

Bill Duncan,
Jan 27, 2012, 10:15 AM