Teachers' union, ACLU sue to challenge New Hampshire 'divisive concepts' law

Suit from teachers' union and ACLU challenges new policy that limits how teachers discuss racism and discrimination in the classroom.
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NewHampshireCapitol
The New Hampshire Capitol.
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New Hampshire has been hit with another federal lawsuit over its new policy that limits how teachers discuss racism and discrimination in the classroom.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by the National Education Association of New Hampshire and American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, seeks to overturn the so-called "divisive concepts" law that prohibits teaching about systemic racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in public schools and state-funded programs.

"This unconstitutionally vague law disallows students from receiving the inclusive, complete education they deserve, and from having important conversations on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the classroom,” Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, said in a briefing. "It is an attack on educators who are simply doing their job."

Besides the impact on teachers, Bissonnette said the new law also "erases the legacy of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people, women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities."

NEA New Hampshire President Megan Tuttle said teachers are confused and scared by the new requirements and many fear that they will be targeted for teaching subjects involving racism.

"They are afraid that if they open up discussion for the students, they'll be accused of indoctrinating students just because they are presenting different viewpoints," she said. 

Teachers unions have pointed to a group called Moms for Liberty, which offered a $500 "bounty" for parents who file complaints against teachers who violate the new law.

Supporters of the so-called "Right to Freedom from Discrimination and Public Workplaces and Education" law argue that it will strengthen the state's anti-discrimination laws and improve race relations.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who helped write the new law, said recenty that the requirements prevent educators from "teaching our kids that they're somehow inferior or superior, that they're inherently racist, sexist or oppressive by virtue of the characteristics they're born with."

Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed the law earlier in June as part of the two-year state budget, has also defended the new requirements.

"Nothing in this language prevents schools from teaching any aspect of American history, such as teaching about racism, sexism, or slavery – it simply ensures that children will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sexual identity, or religion," Sununu said in a statement.

But Sununu's decision not to veto the provision prompted at least 10 members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion to resign in protest.

The NEA's lawsuit is very similar to a legal challenge filed last week by the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire, another teachers' union. AFT's President Randi Weingarten called the law "chilling and untenable" and vowed that it will be overturned by the courts.