Bill moves forward to allow parents to opt out of LGBTQ+ topics in school.

Early in May, the “Honesty in Education Act” was defeated by House Democrats. This legislative effort aimed to compel public school teachers to respond to parental inquiries regarding changes in their child’s gender identity.

Meanwhile, a different bill is progressing, which proponents argue would grant parents greater authority over their children’s education in schools, while opponents contend that it would interfere with classroom instruction.

House Bill 1312 is advancing and proposes allowing parents to opt their children out of any instruction or program related to sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.

Presently, state law permits parents to withdraw their children from classes covering human sexual education. However, HB 1312 seeks to extend this provision to encompass additional subjects.

Under the current procedure, parents must formally notify the school district of their objection to the class content. They must also suggest alternative instruction agreed upon by the school district, at their own expense if required.

HB 1312 seeks to broaden the withdrawal capability and mandates that school district personnel notify parents at least two weeks in advance of any material falling within this category.

Moreover, the bill would prohibit school districts from mandating teachers to withhold information from parents regarding their child’s well-being, including information about their sexuality. Although individual teachers can opt not to respond to parental inquiries about their child’s sexuality, the bill would prevent school districts from implementing a blanket policy to this effect.

The House approved the legislation with a narrow 186-185 vote, with the Republican-led Senate Education Committee recommending its passage in a party-line vote of 3-1.

Supporters argue that the bill would give parents more influence over how their children are educated on sensitive issues. Conversely, opponents claim that the legislation could promote discriminatory views against LGBTQ+ individuals and disrupt teachers through the notification process.

According to Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, “The bill appears to target, and I believe stigmatize, any instruction related to LGBTQ+ people, sending a message that their feelings and identities are to be shunned, feared, potentially censored, or not acknowledged.”

Sanbornton Republican Senator Tim Lang expressed that the bill would encourage parents to engage with their children about these topics, fostering stronger parent-child connections.

He clarified that the notification requirements do not prevent schools from teaching the subjects. Rather, they allow parents to choose their child’s participation, ensuring informed consent.

Lang emphasized that the bill does not enable parents to withdraw their child from materials related to LGBTQ+ individuals or historical movements but simply seeks to inform parents in advance.

Regarding instructional content, Lang specified that historical figures like Harvey Milk would not trigger the disclosure requirement, while materials addressing students’ sexual orientations or gender identities, notably in sex education classes, would require notification.

However, critics from teachers’ unions argued that the bill lacks clear distinctions, potentially causing teachers to err in interpreting which classes necessitate advance notification. Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire, raised concerns about the bill’s implications on various educational topics.

Brian Hawkins, director of government relations for the National Education Association of New Hampshire, criticized the bill for its broad scope, asserting that educators could struggle to comply due to vague language.

Since 2017, New Hampshire lawmakers have increasingly promoted parental control over education, including efforts to regulate school library books and require teacher responses to parental inquiries concerning their child’s gender identity.

Recently, Senate Bill 341, another parental notification bill, was “indefinitely postponed.” This legislative move signifies that the bill is no longer viable and cannot return as an amendment this session.

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