The Monadnock Regional School Board’s policy committee at its next meeting on July 7 will continue to discuss a proposal based on the controversial “divisive concepts” bill being considered at the Statehouse.
But first, the group decided Wednesday night, they need to comb through the district’s existing policies to see whether any already address the issues board member Dan LeClair raised in the pair of motions he introduced last month.
“I think our role here is just to see if, in [LeClair’s] motions, if our current policies already cover his concerns,” policy committee Chairwoman Kristen Noonan of Fitzwilliam said during the meeting, which was held via Zoom. “… I don’t think it’s our place to decide anything else other than, ‘Are these things already covered in our current policy book?’ “
During the May 18 board meeting where LeClair introduced the motions, Noonan said this was the likely next step for the proposals. But at the committee meeting Wednesday, she and board Chairman Scott Peters of Troy also expressed concern that the board could be getting ahead of statewide legislation.
LeClair, a Swanzey resident who has twice run unsuccessfully as a Republican for N.H. Senate, said he adapted the language for his proposals from House Bill 544, versions of which have now been included in the House’s budget proposal and the budget bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee.
LeClair’s first proposal would restrict any Monadnock staff member from teaching anything “that instills any form of race, gender [or] sex stereotyping,” including that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” His second motion would prohibit staff members from “[influencing] students by informing them of what their political ideology is” and require teachers to provide “positive and negative arguments to all topic assignments.”
The bill before the N.H. Legislature that LeClair used to craft his motions would cut off state funding for any school, business or organization that spreads “divisive concepts” about topics such as racism and sexism. The N.H. House incorporated this language in its state budget proposal, and the N.H. Senate Finance Committee last week added similar language to its version of the budget bill, according to reporting from the New Hampshire Bulletin. The full Senate is set to vote on the budget proposal today.
At Monadnock’s policy committee meeting Wednesday, Peters said the group could wait to take up LeClair’s motions until state officials sort out the proposal in Concord. Gov. Chris Sununu has said previously that he would veto the House’s version of the divisive concepts bill but has not commented on the Senate’s addition to the budget proposal, the N.H. Bulletin reported.
“It’s unwise for any school district to try to adopt a policy ahead of an RSA or ahead of any [N.H. Department of Education] changes, because in the debate of those individual laws or regulations, some part of it could be changed or wordsmithed differently, and then we’d be already behind, even though we thought we were ahead,” Peters said.
Normally, the N.H. School Boards Association issues guidance to districts after changes in state law that require school boards to adopt new policies or alter existing ones. Boards like Monadnock’s typically then vote on those policy recommendations individually.
“All of these NHSBA policies are vetted by attorneys,” Noonan said. “For us to do it on our own is a little bit of a risk.”
Ultimately, the committee decided it will spend most of its July 7 meeting going line by line through LeClair’s two motions and determining what, if any, existing district policies relate to the issues he raised.
“Then, if say, one policy individually disagrees with what Dan has presented, that should then be debated on its own merit, not all wrapped up like one big burrito,” Peters said.
Although the group did not delve into the specifics of LeClair’s motions Wednesday night, a district parent, Ed Sheldon of Swanzey, did speak against the proposals.
“For me as a parent, I think this is a terrible idea,” said Sheldon, who added that he has a daughter in 1st grade. “I’m really hoping that the policy committee, and ultimately the school board, decides to turn down this proposal.”
Sheldon said he is concerned LeClair’s proposals would harm the quality of education in the district — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.
“If we spend time trying to hide students away from concepts that we feel are going to hurt their feelings, or we try to keep the realities of the world away from them, that’s only going to leave them ill-informed and unprepared for going out into the real world after graduation, which is really the point,” he said.
LeClair, who is not on the policy committee, said during the May 18 board meeting that he introduced the two motions after several conversations with parents and students in the district. These students, he said, have changed what they have written in assignments for fear that a teacher would look unfavorably upon them based on their arguments and don’t express their opinions in class because they believe their peers will harass them.
The legislation that LeClair used to craft his motions has drawn criticism from educators and businesses statewide. On the same night the Monadnock board began discussing LeClair’s policy proposals, the Keene Board of Education voted to approve a resolution opposing the so-called “divisive concepts” bill.
Critics of the state-level legislation have said they fear it could limit important classroom conversations on topics like race and gender. Several local educators told The Sentinel they have never seen educators indoctrinate students with their personal ideologies, which backers of the bill have warned is a problem in New Hampshire.
Supporters of the state proposal have expressed concern over the teaching of critical race theory, a scholarly framework that approaches the study of the United States through a lens of race and power and holds that systemic racism is a part of American culture.