House committee weighs bill that would require teachers to answer parents’ questions

By JEREMY MARGOLIS

Concord Monitor

Published: 04-23-2024 4:00 PM

At a parent-teacher conference a decade ago, Tina Kim Philibotte learned her child was gay.

The disclosure took Philibotte — a self-described progressive and now one of four public school diversity, equity, inclusion and justice administrators in New Hampshire — by complete surprise.

“It was a private conversation that my child should have been able to have had on their own time, with their own agency,” Philibotte told the House Education Committee on Monday, during an at-times emotional two-hour hearing for Senate Bill 341, which would require educators to provide “complete and honest” responses to parents’ questions about their children.

The outing of Kim Philibotte’s child was inadvertent — Philibotte suspects the teacher thought she already knew – but opponents of the bill argue it would make similar outings of LGBTQ children a requirement for educators when they receive a request from a parent. More broadly, they say, the bill would fray relationships of trust between children and teachers.

Republican Sen. Tim Lang, the lead sponsor of the bill, countered that the most important relationship is not between teachers and  students, but rather between parents and schools.

“I don’t think in any instance that a school should keep secrets from parents,” Lang said.

Responding to concerns that certain disclosures could put children at risk, Lang cited a portion of the proposed law that would allow educators to withhold information and instead make a report to the Department of Health and Human Services if they deem disclosure would put the student at risk.

SB 341, which passed the Senate earlier this month in a party-line vote, is the latest bill to trigger a debate about parental rights and what information schools must disclose about students. It follows SB272 — voted down by the House last year — which would have established a “bill of rights” for parents with respect to education.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Kenyon: By charging for after school program, CCBA loses sight of its mission
Hartford parts with state champion girls hockey coach
Bookstock literary festival grew too big to manage
Hartford High students walk out in support of Palestinians
Police: Vermont man arrested for stealing gas in Newport to refuel stolen vehicle
Over Easy: Baby crazy in West Lebanon

This year, Republican legislators have broken portions of that “bill of rights” into discrete parts. SB341 would require credentialed educators to respond within 10 business days to written requests by parents for information about their children. If they fail to respond completely and honestly, they could be subjected to professional discipline.

On Monday, 22 parents, educators, representatives and advocates opposed the bill, while five supported it.

“Children should be able to live honestly and have a say in matters about their own lives.” David Trumble of Weare testified. “Senator Lang’s view of the world is that a 16 or 17 -year -old is legally an infant. They have no more rights than a kindergartner.”

In high school, Linds Jakows feared to come out prior to achieving financial independence since Jakows’ father was unsupportive.

“There was a moment when I thought I might be sent to conversion therapy,” said Jakows, who argued the law would have a chilling effect on students who need to confide in their teachers. “How do students feel safe at school when they feel like the people around them can report anything they say?”

Several lawmakers and opponents expressed concerns that the bill would walk back progress made through the statewide One Trusted Adult Program, which was established in 2022 to provide professional development to educators on the importance of building strong relationships with students.

“There’s nothing in this bill that says they can’t have that communication,” Lang responded.

Supporters of the bill argued parents’ rights extend to what happens inside the classroom.

“When a child enters the school, that parent has known their child for many, many years,” said Nancy Biederman, a former teacher in the New Boston school district. “A teacher will know a student for maybe 180 days, 925 hours. . . . How can any teacher believe that they know what is best for any student under that time limit?”

Peter Hanson, a father of five from Pembroke, said that trust between parents and teachers has already been broken.

“There’s many great teachers, but we can’t be naive enough to think that all teachers will do the right thing and make good decisions and not promote their own agendas or beliefs onto our children,” Hanson said. “Most laws and regulations get created because people don’t always do the right thing.”

The Education Committee will now make a recommendation on the bill. If it comes to the floor, it is unclear whether the bill would pass the tightly-divided House.