Senate Republicans Introduce Honesty in Education Act, Bringing Back Debate on Parental Disclosure

During their time in high school, Alice Wade dedicated a whole year to planning how they would come out as transgender. They even had a backup plan in case things didn’t go well. “When I was 15, I made plans for what I would do, and which friend’s house I would go to, and how I would work to make enough money to live on my own if I had to become homeless,” Wade shared with New Hampshire lawmakers recently.

In order to have control over their own narrative, Wade chose to come out gradually. They first confided in their close friends, then a teacher, and finally their mom. Only when they felt ready, they decided to tell their dad. According to Wade, this decision was crucial. “While it wasn’t perfect, if my parents had found out before I was ready to tell them, I don’t know if I’d be alive here to give you my testimony,” Wade revealed.

The process of coming out in high school and the decision of when to inform parents are at the center of a legislative battle once more. State Senate Republicans are pushing for a bill this year that would require schools to disclose information to parents upon request. Previous similar efforts in the past two years have not succeeded. LGBTQ rights organizations argue that such a bill could forcibly reveal a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity to their parents before they are comfortable disclosing that information themselves.

Senate Bill 341 mandates that any written requests regarding a child must be answered by school staff within 10 days of receiving the request. If responding to the request could potentially put the student at risk of harm, abuse, or neglect, the staff member must report the situation to the Division for Children, Youth, and Families within 48 hours.

The bill also states that any violation of the requirement to provide information will be referred to the school board for appropriate disciplinary action, which may include termination. If a parent disagrees with the disciplinary action taken by the school board, they have the option to appeal the decision to the state board of education, which has the authority to make the final call on terminating the staff member.

Sen. Tim Lang, the Republican sponsor of the bill, compares it to the state’s right-to-know law, RSA 91-A, which mandates public officials to provide requested documents and information to the public, with certain exceptions for confidentiality. “This bill extends that to the school setting,” Lang explained during a recent press conference held by Senate Republicans.

During a hearing on January 3rd, some members of the public expressed support for the bill. Aubrey Freedman from Bridgewater, who identifies as gay, believes that schools should be honest when parents inquire about their children. “It’s all about honesty,” Freedman stated. “Nobody’s outing anybody, (but) if the parents want to ask the school personnel a question, they should be honest. I don’t think that’s a big deal.”

However, advocates and young transgender individuals argue that passing this bill would result in students being involuntarily outed and would undermine the trust that teachers strive to build with their students. Megan Tuttle, president of the National Education Association of New Hampshire, emphasized that parents and educators already have a good working relationship and that the bill would damage that relationship. She also referred to a recent report on the teacher shortage, which concluded that a climate of fear and unease had driven educators away from the profession.

“We believe Senate Bill 341 would only contribute to the type of legislation that the committee found was causing current and prospective educators to leave the profession,” Tuttle explained.

Barrett Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, raised concerns about the appeals process to the state Board of Education, arguing that the board consists of “unelected bureaucrats” appointed by the governor and Executive Council.

Sara Smith, a retired teacher, also opposed the bill, stating, “I fundamentally believe in honesty, and if anybody asked me to lie I wouldn’t.” Smith believes that as a teacher, her main objective was to teach children critical thinking skills. This involved establishing trust with students and providing a safe space for them to share personal issues. “But once this law is enacted, students can no longer expect their teachers to keep confidential issues they have shared with them,” Smith warned.

This bill follows two previous attempts in 2022 and 2023 to pass similar legislation. On both occasions, the bills were thwarted in the House. Opponents of the bills have expressed concerns that requiring schools to disclose information about a student’s sexual orientation or gender expression could lead to situations of abuse or neglect if parents disapprove. Lang clarified that the bill provides an option for school officials to not inform parents and instead file a report with the Division for Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) if abuse is likely.

Chris Erchull, staff attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), disputed Lang’s statement, claiming that the current version of the bill does not grant school staff the option to withhold information from parents, even if they file a DCYF report.

Lang acknowledged the concerns expressed and mentioned that he plans to make amendments to the bill to address them. One change he intends to make is to explicitly state that teachers are not required to disclose information to parents if they suspect abuse or harm but file a report with DCYF instead.

In addition, Lang clarified that the bill will only apply to certified school staff such as teachers and administrators, excluding other staff members like bus drivers or custodians.

“I have taken people’s concerns into account,” Lang assured. “I am making adjustments that I believe are reasonable requests.”

Linds Jakows, an advocate who faced retaliation from their father after being involuntarily outed in high school, claimed that the bill would disrupt the delicate process of coming out. “Many LGBTQ young people feel a strong need to come out to peers first, regardless of whether or not their parents are affirming,” Jakows explained. “This bill doesn’t explicitly mention situations related to transgender or LGBTQ youth like last year’s bill, but we know that the forced outing will be the same.”

The bill is expected to incite months of contentious debate and floor votes. To Lang, the bill is simply about improving communication. “I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that when we talk about trusting adults in the school system, the trust is between the parent and the teacher and the parent and the school system,” Lang said. “And so this bill seeks to make sure that that trust is not eroded.”

Other articles

Post Image
Education
Funding Deadline Looms for Gas, Food, and Lodging for Homeless Students

For the last two months, Lori Menkedick and her family have called the Evergreen …

Read More
Post Image
Education
States’ Efforts to Streamline Teacher Certification: Are They Lowering Standards or Increasing Access?

Everett Anderson’s aspiration was to become a teacher, a goal he pursued d …

Read More
Post Image
Education
Historically Black college aims to become second institution for veterinary training. The significance of this milestone.

When Kaila Tyree-Castro was 13 years old, her pet geckos fell ill. The closest v …

Read More