NH Education Committee Circumvents the Public Hearing?

HB 542 demonstrates either an unintended consequence of committee amendments, or less naively, a clever move to side step a controversy generating public hearing on a piece of legislation.  The excerpt below is from the House Record dated Friday,  March 11.

HB 542-FN, amending the school attendance statutes, amending the statute for suspension or expulsion of a pupil for possession of certain weapons, and repealing the rulemaking and reporting provisions of the Parents as Teachers program. MAJORITY: OUGHT TO PASS WITH AMENDMENT. MINORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE.

Rep. J.R. Hoell for the Majority of Education: Parents have a right to control the education and instruction of their children. This bill clarifies in statute the constitutional right of parents to conscientiously object to materials, or programs, taught in the public school system. Parents already have the right to a voice in alternate learning programs for children over the age of 16, (RSA 193:1,I,(h)), and this bill clearly states that this right shall be extended to all children ages 6-18. The New Hampshire Constitution states in Part First, Article 4 that the right of Conscience is an unalienable right, and this bill specifies that this right applies to parent-directed education of their children. This bill codifies in statute the common practice seen in some, but not all, local school districts where parents have the right to provide alternatives to a public school program where the parent has objections; this includes conscientious objections to particular books, materials, units or classes. For example: parents may object to a particular sex education course or specific books being used in the curriculum. Recently (12/2010), the town of Bedford had a controversy over a book used in the finance course. The book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich promoted the abuse of controlled substances and mocked Jesus which was offensive to both the parents and the student. The book in question not only had political propaganda violating the conscience of the parents, the questionable material was taking time from teaching valuable personal finance skills. Had HB542 as amended been in statute, the controversy could have been avoided. Vote 11-6.


Now for the minority report:

Rep. Karen K Hutchinson for the Minority of  Education:  This amendment attempts to codify a parent’s right to conscientiously object to a program or school.  However, the original bill did not address this subject matter, as the amendment replaces the entire bill and title.  Had this been the subject of the original bill, the minority believes that that testimony would have been received and that the public should have the right to testify and weigh in on this important issue.  The minority believes that a new bill with appropriate title be brought forth in May for next year. In addition, this bill as amended, inserts language regarding program approval into the “attendance” statute.  The language attempts to remove a school district’s right to approve a “parent’s education program.”  While it alludes to home schooling, its ramifications could be much further reaching.  The minority believes that the question of whether approval of home school programs are warranted be better answered during the study of the three home schooling bills already retained.

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